|The Magi's Well By Trisha O'Keefe|
As the man plunged downward in a graceful spiral towards the steel barricade below, her first impression was it had to be some ridiculous stunt for one of Cairoâ€™s endless action movies. In the next millisecond, Trevy screamed as the steel poles supporting the fence below broke his fall.
â€œShit! Look over there!â€ Arms waving wildly, Trevy broke into a mad dance on the observation platform, yelling at the workers in the excavation pit below. â€œSomeone just fell over there. Help him! Please!â€
But the desert wind snatched the warning from her mouth, and the excavation crew merely gave a few amused glances toward the foreign woman dancing on the platform above them. After shaking their heads and making some choice remarks about Western women, they went back to squabbling over their detailed work.
When she could summon the courage, Trevy looked back at the monument again. The manâ€™s body was suspended on the steel spines of the fence like an insect specimen on a pin. For a moment, she had to turn away, fighting a wave of nausea.
The second time she screamed at them to look, the crew boss finally stood up and looked in the direction she was pointing. â€œAllah!â€ he shouted. â€œShuf!â€
The rest got to their feet and looked. At the sight of the dangling body on the barricade, the workers set up a clamor that brought the foreman from the shade of his tent. From his annoyed expression, they had evidently disrupted his nap.
â€œGet back to work, lazy fools! It isnâ€™t time to knock off yet!â€ At that moment, the foreman spotted the body dangling on the fence and began shouting along with the workers. â€œAllah! Ya, Doktora Fadal! Taalah hena!â€
A short round man in a three-piece suit came out of the excavation directorâ€™s tent equally perturbed at the disturbance. He dabbed his forehead with a folded linen handkerchief. Coming up beside Trevy on the viewing platform, he regarded the pit workers as a teacher regards disruptive students.
"All right, what is all this commotion about? What has happened? Is someone hurt down over there?" Then he saw the body impaled on the fence. "Allah have mercy, what has happened? Get him down, you foolish people!â€ he ordered with a shudder. â€œWhat a dreadful accident! Who is this poor fellow?"
The workers clad only in filthy undershorts spewed out from the excavation pit in all directions, almost trampling the retaining fence to get over to the Isis temple. Trevy averted her eyes as several men lifted the body down from the steel spikes. When she glanced back, they were delicately poking the corpse here and there as if it were an artifact. Finding no sign of life, they got down on their knees and prayed while the pit foreman alternately joined their prayers and then harangued them for not returning to work.
"He's dead, Sahib." The foreman came back to deliver the message to the Director. "This foreigner is very dead." The rest of the crew crowded around him, shouting various accounts of what had happened.
â€œOf course, heâ€™s dead! How could he not be dead?â€ The director slapped his forehead in a gesture of grief usually reserved for funerals. "A foreigner? The papers will be full of it! Probably some tourist climbing around. Where are the guards we pay to watch these monuments? No doubt sipping tea in the shade. Who saw this happen? Who is a witness? In the name of Allah," he shouted to the foreman, "will you shut them up?" It was obvious Dr. Fadal was colonial-bred, the progeny of English bureaucracy. He alternately switched from Arabic to French, not uncommon among Egyptians schooled abroad.
The foreman ordered the workers back into the excavation pit and they left reluctantly, grumbling because their prayers were interrupted, and because the spirit of the deceased could follow them for such disrespect. They sat down on the sand to gesture at the corpse and complain about the project being cursed. The solar boat should have never been unearthed from its resting place here at Sakkara.
The director from the Department of Antiquities mopped his glistening face with the sodden handkerchief. â€œAllah be merciful, it is very unfortunate.â€ He turned to go back into his tent, but Trevy moved quickly to intercept him.
"I saw it, Dr. Fadal." At the sound of the American voice, Fadal's head snapped around as if he were hadnâ€™t noticed her before.
"You? And what did happen, Miss....?"
"It's Trevellyn. Trevellyn Evans." The director's brow wrinkled as he tried to apply Egyptian syllabication. She was aware of the impact of her full name on Egyptian tongues. "Just call me Trevy." Her hand shook as she brushed her hair nervously from her face. "Anyway, yes, I saw him fall."
"Miss Evans, then. Please tell me, how did this unfortunate mishap occur?" Blotting his face with a monogrammed handkerchief, Fadal stepped back from the excavation and gestured dramatically. "I tell you, this whole project has been plagued with bad luck from the very beginning. It is as if the pharaoh himself has set a curse upon us." He laughed as people do when something isnâ€™t at all humorous.
Trevy saw herself reflected in the director's sunglasses, knowing that he was looking back at his own worried face in hers. "He fell from up there." She pointed at the scaffolding around the stele fifteen to twenty feet above the ground. "I didn't see what happened before that. I was watching them put the supports under the solar boat. Then Iâ€™m not sure, but I thought there was a sound of some kind, like a sharp crack. Then he just fell." She looked down at her long, brown sandaled feet in the desert sand as if trying to reassure herself they were firmly on the ground. "It's odd, though. I do remember glancing at the scaffolding over there earlier and I didn't see anyone. Then, he was just there."
"That's absolutely correct. Of course, there wouldn't be anyone over there, my dear," replied Fadal. In his effort to soothe her nerves, he sounded even more irritable as if she hadn't been any help at all. "That's the University of Michigan restoration work on the temple and they've stopped working for the season. They were mapping the inscriptions and shoring up the eastern wall. No, no reason at all for anyone to be up there. Dear Allah, this is dreadful! What if Chicago pulls out our funding just as we've almost got the thing raised?"
Leave it to an archaeologist to worry about losing funding above all, she thought. Dr. Fadal relieved her of finding something appropriate to say. "Excuse me, Miss. I must go phone the police." Then he stopped as if a second thought had struck him. "And what is your business here, Miss Evans? Are you a tourist?"
"No, I'm a graduate student in archaeology at The American University in Cairo. And I teach graduate classes." Her words came out in a sort of code, which did little to bridge the gap between their respective cultures. However, Fadal was more familiar with the language of academic credits.
"Ah, yes, of course." Dr. Fadal nodded, a little more impressed. "Of course. I know the director over there very well. Mustafa Khoutub. Fine scholar. Give him my regards, please." He shook his head and sighed, as if he wanted to deal only with pleasantries, and not sudden death. "Now, then, I must attend to this very unpleasant business."
There was something about dealing with the Cairo police that was always exhausting. Maybe it was the British influenced fascination with triplicate form. If a mere traffic accident took a day, the death of a foreigner, even accidental, would take days of official investigation. Even weeks.
Waiting her turn as the early November afternoon ripened into cool evening, Trevellyn glanced frequently at her watch, hoping the men in dark blue uniforms would get the hint. She wanted to get back to her cool flat and change out of her sand-dusted clothes clinging leech-like to her body in spite of the restless desert wind. Her water bottle had emptied an hour previously, and the endless tiny cups of sweet mint tea the foreman kept offering her made her even thirstier. Probably on the Directorâ€™s orders, he filled up her cup every time she emptied it.
She was relieved to see two Cairo police officers accompanying Dr. Fadal coming towards her in a determined phalanx. Letâ€™s get this thing over, she thought. And let me go home.
The two policemen seemed to be a cut above the usual traffic cops, wearing navy uniform with gold braid and epaulets that flashed in the sun. The one with the most decorations bowed slightly in the old style before addressing her in excellent but formal English. â€œGood afternoon, Miss. I am Captain Riad Hassan and this is Lieutenant Muhammad." The younger officer bowed slightly. "I really apologize for keeping you waiting so long. I am afraid I was chatting with my old friend here, Dr. Fadal. Shall we sit down inside the excavation quarters? It is much more comfortable." He snapped his fingers. "Shai!"
At the request for more tea, she tried to refuse their hospitality diplomatically.
â€œNo thanks, Captain. Iâ€™ve really had quite enough.â€ The foreman followed them with the tea tray anyway.
Inspector Hassan wasted no time getting to the point as they walked to the large white tent that served the director as a base of operations for the dig. With his hands folded discreetly behind his back, the policeman shot questions at her in rapid fire, impeccable English. "And you are a tourist, Miss Evans? American, yes?"
"I'm a graduate student at the American University," Trevy tried to hide her annoyance at always being mistaken for a tourist, "on a one-year grant from a university in the States."
"Which one? I've been to the States to school;" Hassan replied, adding "detective school, of course." He added a brief, blinding smile that somehow lessened his imposing presence.
"You mean forensics." She wanted to give him the impression she wasn't a complete dud. â€œAnd I'm from Iowa. You know Iowa?" she said. The hundred-degree heat was making her almost nostalgic for blizzards.
"Ah, yes indeed. Very cold, Iowa. Many cows." They laughed politely.
Then the Chief Inspector asked in a gentle voice, "Now tell me, what did you see just now? Out there?" He nodded towards the dig. "Did you actually see what happened, Miss Evans? Or do you say Trevellyn?"
The man was sharper than most. "Trevy is easier. Like the fountain in Rome."
They all laughed again; although she wasnâ€™t sure the younger one got the joke. "Ah, yes. Also, just as beautiful and cool."
Passing over the classic Middle Eastern compliment for blondes, she went on. "I was just leaving when I saw something move up there. I had just turned and then he fell." She shook her head to clear it. "I don't think he even cried out. It's not like he slipped or something. He just fell straight down."
Inspector Hassan made a thinking noise. "And you saw no one else up there?" His dark eyes took in everything and gave away nothing.
She made an effort to recall the man's extended fall and yet failing to summon the mental picture again. "I really wasn't looking in that direction. Just...just something caught my eye. He wasn't pushed or anything. I mean, I didn't see anyone else up there."
"Exactly." The inspector appeared to be making mental notes but she noticed the younger one was writing furiously on a small notepad. "From the corner, as it were. I hate very much to take you back out into the hot sun but would you be so kind as to show me the exact location from which the man fell?"
Something about the Egyptiansâ€™ protective attitude always made her feel she should be under glass in a cooler somewhere, like an exotic flower. In a tight knot, joined by Fadal and the other officer, they trudged through the rocky sand to study the obelisk, which was part of a larger temple complex.
Buried by two thousand years of sand, the ruins jutted up from the desert floor as if they had been clawing their way back to the surface. The obelisks and pillars were from a later Pharonic period than the main body of the temple itself. Armies from Alexander to Napoleon had coveted their stark beauty and carried the toppled columns home to Greece, Turkey, Rome and France. But the grandeur of inscribed granite columns remained, undaunted by time and greed.
The closest structure to the solar boat was a Middle Kingdom column with a web of steel scaffolding clinging to its tapered sides. In rapid Arabic, the three men discussed the scaffolding from which the man had plunged. Already, a crew of forensic workmen, directed by the zealous foreman, was taping off the north end with yellow warning tape.
"I just looked up from the pit where they're excavating the solar boat and saw him falling, straight down into it." She shook her head, trying to clear the vision away. â€œIt was like some kind of a nightmare. Horrible. I hadn't noticed anyone up there before." She pointed to the north corner of the Isis temple. "Then I looked up and he was falling from up there. I thought I heard something just before that, a sharp cracking noise. But it could have been something down in the pit. Tools. A hammer.â€ Hassan turned back to her just as the impact of having seen a fatal accident was sinking in. Putting a hand to her forehand, she signaled the universal sign for women feeling faint. "Look, I'm suddenly feeling a little dizzy. Would you mind if I go home now?"
The two men responded promptly to feminine frailty, something she would never consciously invoke had it not been partially true. "But of course. How inconsiderate of me. It must have been a terrible shock." Captain Hassan nodded several times as if he had forgotten his manners, and snapped his fingers again. A black Mercedes bounced incongruously towards them, almost bogging down in the loose sand and rock beneath its wheels. As they walked to the car, he made good use of the remaining minutes of their interview. "A marvelous thing, this boat of the sun, is it not? Is it why are you here in the first place?" He neatly answered his own question. "But, of course, how obvious. As a student of archaeology, this is part of your work.â€
Recognizing interrogation, however elegantly put, Trevy felt uneasy about the situation for the first time. Although long parted from Russian alliances, Egypt still regarded Americans in strange places with suspicion, a leftover from the CIAâ€™s covert activities during the Cold War. Nasser's old legacy of Egyptian independence still cast a veil of suspicion over adventurous tourists. "Actually, I'm not only an anthropologist; I'm an astronomer as well. There is an interdisciplinary program created by my university back home. And no, the solar boat really doesn't have anything directly to do with my work but I had heard about the dig from a friend and decided to come see it on my day off. Otherwise, I'm teaching in the afternoons."
"Ah, you are a professor, then. In astronomy?" She thought Hassan made a strange face as if he were sucking on a lemon slice. "Interesting."
Trevy had the grace to look embarrassed. "No, archaeology. Itâ€™s part of the deal I made to study here. And I won't get my doctorate for another year and a half. So I'm merely an instructor." She laughed and the policeman's appreciative looks told her she was pretty when she smiled. â€œI also teach English.â€
"Indeed you are truly versatile. I commend you for such scholarly perseverance. If only I had continued...but then," Hassan shrugged and Lieutenant Muhammad shared the joke fate had played on them. "My professor was not nearly so pretty."
"He would have been a doctor, too," his lieutenant explained. "But now, he just follows up on the doctors' mistakes." Trevellyn looked mystified and the young man struggled to correct his English. "I mean the patients who die."
After a second or two, Trevy caught on to the joke about Egyptian medicine. "You mean the ones who don't make it. How funny! So, am I free to go?" she asked, taking advantage of the relaxed moment.
"Of course. Do you need a ride?" The Mercedes prowled behind them as Hassan walked her past the solar boat excavation, glancing at her more frequently than he needed to.
"No, thanks. That's my little car down there." She pointed to the Volkswagen Beetle parked in the area below the raised elevation of the ancient city. Giving Hassan her phone number, she made her way through the sand, a slender figure carved by the wind. As she neared the steps, Trevellyn glanced back over her shoulders and saw Fadal and Hassan deep in conversation. As she went down the steps to her car, they both looked in her direction. With a cold feeling that this was not the last she would hear of the incident, Trevellyn started up the noisy little Beetle and headed towards the cool, tree-lined Nile suburb of Maadi.
"What do you mean, you saw somebody killed?" Boris stared at her over the soggy slice of pizza with long strings of Mozzarella still drifting down his chin. "Today?"
"Just like that." With fluttering fingers, Trevy made an eerie imitation of someone falling through the air between them."Someone working up there on the scaffolding just fell from the side of the temple next to the solar pit and impaled himself on the fence around the site. I was just standing there. And it happened." She looked into her glass as if it contained tea leaves. "Boris, I really need another glass of wine. Awful as it is."
"If American University pay better, believe me, I buy French wine." Boris signaled the waitress."But now, we must make do." He made an empty gesture. "Anyhow, who is this falling man? You find out?"
Trevellyn shook her head. "Not a clue. A worker, probably. Mind if we talk about something else? Anything. The bad wine or the soggy pizza." She looked at the solid red mass in front of her, recalling the pool of blood forming around the impaled body. "I think Iâ€™ve lost my appetite."
"I am filled with anxiety." The assistant professor of Russian language sat back and patted his chest as if in remorse or heartburn. "I'm definitely not impressing you. I want to be friends with beautiful American girls and I am falling flatly. Pinioned on thorns," he added, putting his hand over his heart. â€œThank God, not a fence.â€
Trevellyn felt suddenly ill as the wine struck her empty stomach. "Boris, I hope you won't take offense, but you'd be better off if you ate alone tonight. I'm not exactly the best date tonight. Mind if I take rain check?" The date with the Russian professor was turning out to be a big mistake. She should have just stayed home instead of driving all the way back to meet him at the pizzeria in town.
"Rain, maybe not. But take the check, by all means. Let me take you home. You are looking very pale." He started to signal for the check. "Like corpse."
"Sorry to be a disappointment. Whoa!" Trevy found the door had gone someplace when she stood up. "Never mind, I'll take a cab. Finish your dinner, please, Boris. I'm really sorry about this." She sat down again quickly. â€œOh, god. This is awful.â€
"You change your mind that fast?â€ Boris wagged his bushy head. â€œBoy, these American girls are hard to be figuring out."
"I don't want to leave just yet.â€ She gripped the edge of the table, waiting for the floor to stop moving. â€œI canâ€™t.â€
Boris' round face lit up with a rakish grin as he lifted his glass. "My prayers are answered. The wine is working after all."
"Don't count on it," she got in just as a tall, dark-haired man joined them. In spite of the pulsating heat he looked as if he had stepped out of an ad for American laundry soap.
"Hey, itâ€™s Evans of the impeccable Iowa accent and fine-tuned footnotes." Dr. Stephan Drake, chairman of Archaeological Studies, nodded with less enthusiasm at Boris. "And Mr. Radcovich. I must congratulate you, sir. I see you've not only located the best pizza place in town, but the prettiest girl, too."
â€œWhat you say is more obvious than the nose on your face.â€ Boris looked less than pleased with Drakeâ€™s arrival, but he raised his glass in the spirit of international camaraderie. "Ah, Mr. America, join us and sit, if you please."
"Yes, I was just leaving." Trevy tried to slide to the edge of the booth again. "In a minute." She faltered slightly. â€œIn a minute.â€
"She's had bad experience today." Limited in his mastery of subtlety, Boris rehashed the afternoon's events in succinct terms. "Saw a man fall off temple at Saqquara and spear himself."
"Good lord!" How did she know Stephan Drake was faking surprise? No doubt, Dr. Fadal had called him to let him know one of his students had been present. Or the Inspector for that matter, to verify she was really a student. "What a terrible shock that must have been, Trevy. You need something stronger than wine. Can I buy you both a drink?"
"No, thanks, I think I've had enough already. No food yet and I don't think I feel up to a Cairo version of pizza." Trevy tried to get up, but sat quickly back as the room tilted again. "If you both will just excuse me."
"Let me get you a cab," Drake said. "C'mon." He lifted her to her feet by her elbow before Boris could move. "Don't get up, Radcovich; I'll get the waiter to get a cab." Drake said a few words to the waiter who hurried out the door to the street.
â€œSorry about the date, Boris.â€ She patted his arm. â€œCan I get a rain check?â€"But it never rains here.â€ He regarded his wine philosophically. â€œI must strive to learn American suavity."
Out on the warm, noisy street, Trevy hauled in the thick night air in deep gulps. "Thanks, Dr. Drake, I was having trouble breaking away. I'll be okay now if I could just get home."
"You can call me Stephan, you know." His dark blue eyes, all the rage among his female students, studied her face intently for a moment. "You've had a rough day. Don't come to class tomorrow if you don't feel up to it. I'll find a sub for you. English Lit, isn't it? A dime a dozen."
"Oh, I'll be fine. Besides, I have a two o'clock lab session with my graduate students. So I'll be in your anthro class by four, don't worry."
"I'm not worried, just concerned about you. You look very pale. Sure you're okay? I don't mind taking you home. My car's just down the street."
"No, really. You go on and have a nice academic argument with Boris. He's looking bereft because I'd promise to have pizza with him and challenge romantic theory."
"I'd rather have pizza with you instead of Boris, but I know you need to rest.â€ He kept his hand reassuringly at her elbow. â€œAny idea who the man was that fell? And what he was doing up there? Did they find out?"
For some reason, it made her slightly nervous to be the object of Drake's intense gaze. Tall, too handsome for his own good, and single, his private life was the talk of all the available women on staff and even some who weren't. It was rumored, Melissa Melancourt, the wife of the Dean of Liberal Arts, was having an affair with Drake until she had caught him getting it on with his Egyptian secretary.
"No clue. I was just watching them work on excavating the solar boat and caught him coming down off the stele out of the corner of my eye." Nausea returned and Trevy shook her head, as if to clear away the memory. "Sorry. It's not something I ever want to see again. I don't think I'll ever forget it."
Drake patted her arm and took her hand. "I can imagine not. Stay home tomorrow, Trevellyn. Let me at least do that much."
"No, I'd rather be working. It will help not to think about it again."
The doorman flagged a cab down. As it pulled to the curb, Drake asked her address. "Maadi," she said. "Street 12, Number 117."
"Hey, we're practically neighbors," he said. "Let me call you later to see if you make it home, Trevy Would that be okay?" He handed her into the backseat and gave the driver directions. "I was just curious,â€ he said, still leaning on the taxi door. "Whatâ€™s your interest out there at Sakkara? Your focus is ancient astronomically important sites, I believe. Whatâ€™s the connection?â€
Somehow, even in her fogged mental state, she realized there was more behind the question than mere curiosity. â€œItâ€™s only for a research paper on pyramid placement. You know, the old planetary alignment theory. Iâ€™ve got most of it done, but I thought I might get a word with Dr. Fadal, the director of the dig. No such luck, today.â€
â€œI can introduce you if you like. Fadalâ€™s a personal friend of mine.â€
So thatâ€™s how Drake found out so fast. â€œI doubt whether heâ€™d be happy to see me after this afternoon.â€ She leaned back on the seat, desperately wanting to leave. One thing about Drake, he was sensitive to what women thought unlike Boris who hadnâ€™t a clue.
â€œIâ€™m sure thatâ€™s not the case,â€ he said, letting go of the door. â€œIâ€™ll call you later.â€ He rapped the driverâ€™s window and the cab slipped into the gathering traffic. It was 9 oâ€™clock and the great city was stretching after its afternoon nap. The lights of Cairoâ€™s nightlife began to light the narrow streets as shops and restaurants began to reopen. Since most Egyptians didnâ€™t eat until nearly midnight, only businesses catering to European trade opened earlier.
She dozed a little as the cab moved smoothly down the Cornish. Her head was beginning to ache from the cheap raw wine and she closed her eyes. In spite of the driver honking his horn every thirty seconds, she drifted off, thinking about feeding her cat, Iswid. When she opened her eyes again, she realized they had headed off the Cornish at a roundabout.
"Wait a minute! You're going the wrong way! Where are you going?" She banged on the glass divider but the driver ignored her. "Oh, no!" Her worst nightmare was actually happening. She was being kidnapped! Tourists were relatively safe in Cairo even at night. But she could be the rare exception. "Hey, if you want money, take it. Just drop me off here."
But the driver ignored her beating on the partition. When he slowed down for a donkey cart lurching into an intersection, Trevy tried the door handle. But it locked from the front. Her heart rattled inside her rib cage as she tried to grope mentally through her options in a kidnapping. Finally, the taxi pulled up before a huge wrought iron gate that looked like an embassy. A dragoman came out, saw the driver, and immediately the gates opened. They entered a gravel drive in front of a magnificent villa. Palm trees lined the driveway. Within a spectacular garden, a fountain sparkled in the lamplight, giving the place an Arabian Nights look. The driver popped out and opened her door.
Trevy was just about to curse him roundly in the few Arabic expletives she knew when Inspector Captain Hassan of the Cairo Secret Police walked briskly out to meet her. "You must be so terrified. Please forgive me. I had no other way to communicate with you. You seemed to be living in that pizza parlor this evening." He extended his hand and helped her from the back seat.
The adrenalin had made her clearheaded. "What is this about? Am I arrested? What did I do?"
"Please come inside, Miss Evans. I know you must need rest but I have something I must tell you tonight and in confidence. Please. It is most urgent." He gestured towards the villa and she had no choice, but to take his arm.
After stepping into the marble entrance hall, Trevy was glad she hadn't refused the invitation. "What a really magnificent place! It must be an old palace from colonial times."
"Indeed. A very astute observation. Actually, parts of this place date back to the Abassid rule. But please, come into the salon." A servant pulled back the etched glass doors and Hassan ushered her into an enormous room lit by a cascading crystal chandelier that could have graced an opera house. "Let me get you a sherry or perhaps something stronger. You look very pale."
"Maybe that's because I don't get abducted very often. Excuse me for not enjoying the moment." Sinking into the plush Victorian sofa, she began to shake like a tree in a storm. "A sherry is fine. I've just had a glass of the most awful wine."
â€œI must warn you. Don't drink the local wine. It's not properly aged. You need coffee with sugar. That will fix the headache." He spoke to the waiting servant who disappeared like smoke. "Now, let me explain why I did such a terrible thing, as if you hadn't had enough shock for one day. But when I am through, perhaps you will understand the urgency of this meeting and bear with me." He handed her a thimbleful of pale sherry and took the elegant Directoire chair opposite. "The man who fell today whose death you most unfortunately witnessed was Helmut Heinrich Kleinhof, a noted astrophysicist. Have you ever heard of him?"
She snapped to attention. "Kleinhof! Dr. Helmut Heinrich Kleinhof? Of course, I have. He's like the guru of the field. In fact, he wrote my textbook. A world-renowned astronomer." Then she realized what he was trying to tell her. "Him? Kleinhof? He's the one who fell? Thatâ€™s awful!"
Hassan poured himself a brandy from the sideboard and took a seat even closer to her on a brocade chair. "He did not fall, Miss Evans,â€ he said in a low voice. â€œHe was shot once right through the head by a high-powered rifle."
The combined information had almost as much of an impact on her as seeing the man fall. Shot. It echoed in her mind like the ricochet of a bullet. She drank down half the sherry and choked. "Shot? Then, that's the sound I heard just before he fell."
Hassan nodded, and took a sip of brandy, waiting for the news to sink in. "Since you look so surprised, I am assuming you saw nothing else, Miss Evans? No one running away?"
Then it occurred to her why he was questioning her. He doubted her story! Did Hassan think she had something to do with it? Seeing the trap he was laying for her, Trevy tried to follow his line of reasoning. Two foreigners, both of whom had no business being around the excavation. Both scholars, both in the same field. "No one at all. And I don't know how to shoot a gun, if that's what you're getting at nor do I even own one."
She relaxed a little when Hassan smiled. "I'm not surprised. Whoever shot him was obviously a professional marksman. It is not the work of an amateur. But my real fear, my dear Miss Evans, is that whoever killed Dr. Kleinhof may have still another job to do. You may be his next target."
The French water clock on the table ticked away the seconds before she found her voice. "Why on earth do you think that?"
"Let us say the little bird of the mind speaks to me. You, too, are an astronomer, yes? And in the same area of research? Is it an astronomically important site?"
â€œLet me finish, please.â€ Hassan seemed to be consulting mental notes. â€œHe was an expert in comet orbits among other things. He has lately become interested in verifying astrological records of ancient cultures. I believe he has written numerous articles along this line. It is also your area of interest, I believe? Ancient astronomical records? You will excuse me, I have had the pleasure of reading one of your excellent articles on...ancient analog clocks, is it not? Very interesting. Kleinhof also had a similar theory, I believe, that public monuments in various cultures, particularly in Egypt, also served as observatories. And like Stonehenge in England, some were giant calendars as well.â€
She should have been flattered heâ€™d read her two obscure articles published in professional journals. Instead, Trevy couldnâ€™t imagine why a Cairo policeman would normally read anything as esoteric as The Journal of Astroarcheology, unless he was looking for evidence in a case. â€œIâ€™m glad you found them interesting, Inspector. I suppose Dr. Fadal told you the AUC library stocked the journal?â€
Hassan was even charming when caught out. â€œIndeed, fortunately, I found them there.â€
"But I'm hardly in Dr. Kleinhof's league. I'm just a graduate student. Not even really published. Oh, okay, a couple of little papers in a trade journal.â€œ She set down her glass because her hand had started to shake. "Thatâ€™s no reason to kill me!â€
"Let us just say it is a possibility we should consider.â€ Hassan dipped his fingers in the silver bowl and dried them on a white linen napkin, his eyes flicking little glances at her face. â€œI have upset you again. Please forgive me.â€
"Look, Iâ€™m just trying to get my doctorate and a job. Iâ€™m not some bigwig professor who's going to shake up the world of ancient astronomy! No, no, I can't believe that, Inspector. Sorry, but I think youâ€™re wrong."
A shrug told her she had no choice. He believed it. "Nevertheless, it is my job to protect all foreigners on this very soil as well as its citizens. You were a witness to the crime, perhaps the only one. That is one reason. The other is, if you don't mind my drawing a premature conclusion, you and Dr. Kleinhof are or should I say, were, engaged in the same area of research."
Trevy held up a hand to protest. "But...but..."
Inspector Hassan pressed on. "Although there is a wide gap between your ranks, it is nevertheless a connection between the two of you. You are quite sure, then, you have never met Dr. Kleinhof, Miss Evans, perhaps at a lecture or social gathering of your colleagues."
"I certainly would have gotten his autograph if I had. I really looked up to him. But, that doesn't make me any kind of a threat to anybody, does it?"
â€œI just want to be absolutely certain that your witnessing his death was not also intended as a warning to you, Miss Evans.â€ He cut off further protests by refilling her sherry glass at the bar. It was all too clear now he intended to throw her off guard with the condescending conversation and the sherry.
A servant hovered by the door with a loaded silver tray, and Hassan nodded slightly. The man set the loaded tray on a cart and wheeled it to the sofa. Snapping to attention like a soldier, he snatched the covers off two of the warmers simultaneously. Hassan returned and handed Trevellyn her glass, which she immediately set down. "Have you eaten yet?"
"Eaten? It's .." She glanced at her watch. "It's almost eleven o'clock."
"Neither have I, but it is our custom to eat very late. Won't you join me?" He gestured towards the steaming bowls piled high with delicacies.
At the sight of so much food, her stomach whirled like a fishbowl in a storm. "I couldn't eat anything at eleven o'clock at night, even if I had an appetite, which I don't. But thank you, anyway." The servant brought in another enormous tray with a silver coffee service hat he put on the ivory and mother of pearl inlaid table nearby. Another younger man brought in yet another tray loaded with food. "But don't let me stop you. You must be starved. I would love to just go home. It's been the most awful experience. And I haven't fed my cat."
"Your cat? A most sacred animal in Egypt." Hassan bowed neatly from the waist. "Of course, Miss Evans. My car is at your service. But I hope you can understand the urgency of the situation. I must have your house guarded day and night."
"But why would anyone want to kill me? You still haven't explained."
Hassan sat down across from her again. The soft light reflected in his dark eyes reminded her of candles floating on a pool. Out of uniform, in a short-sleeved shirt and khaki trousers, he was even more handsome. "I thought perhaps you might be able to shed some insight on that. Do you have some other purpose in Egypt, Miss Evans? Other than graduate student in Archaeology slash Astronomy and teacher of English?"
She had anticipated the question and prepared herself to be more cavalier than she sounded. Nonchalance went out the window when somebody called her a spy. "Are you asking me if I work for the CIA or some other stupid government spy outfit, Captain? Because if you are, the answer is no. Feel free to tap my telephone or use any other investigative methods to determine my legitimate occupation if you like. If you are asking if my studies carry me to odd places that may be considered strategically important to Egypt's defense or something, then yes, I suppose that is possible. However, I assure you, my knowledge of strategic defense stops with the beginning of the Roman Empire. No, I can shed no light on this mystery at all. Besides, you donâ€™t have real evidence the killer is after me, do you? Only the assumption that, since he killed one astronomer, he would wipe out all astronomers in a certain radius, am I right? A bit like jumping from A to C, isnâ€™t it?"
Hassan was listening as he ate, chewing thoughtfully on a hors d'Å“uvre. In typical Egyptian manner, he courteously avoided questions by changing the subject to more pleasant things. "These are delightful. Bacon around brandied chicken livers. Won't you try one?" He nodded and the servant passed her a hot plate."And try the dolma.â€ He indicated the small bundles of grape leaves around minted rice. â€œThey are my cook's specialty."
It did very little good to resist Hassan's hospitality. In spite of her resolution not to fall into his trap of wine and charm, she sampled the chicken livers and took a sip of sherry. "Delicious. Now, can I go home?"
His smile reached beyond polite. In fact, Riad Hassan appeared to be enjoying a joke at her expense. "It is easy to see you will achieve all goals in life, Miss Evans. You are determined and very, very bright. Just tell me a little about where you go. Exactly what are you looking for as you travel about the country? Where exactly do your studies take you? Or, perhaps, the scholarly term is lead you?"
"Which one of those questions do you want me to answer first?" Seeing there was no quick escape, Trevy settled back on the silken plush. "Talk about determination. You're the one who's hard to persuade, aren't you? I'm just doing some preliminary research for my thesis, that's all."
The inspector inclined his head in a gesture of agreement. "So, we are a good match, then. Go ahead, tell me where you go. You are looking for... ancient stars, perhaps? Are not all stars ancient?"
As in the case of her journal articles, Trevy had the feeling he was faking ignorance in order to coax information from her, but she described briefly how her work had taken her deep into the desert nearly five hundred miles south of Cairo to a place called Wadi Abou Serga. It was so difficult to reach her Land Rover had sunk up to its wheels in sand, and a man with a tractor had to take her the last seven or so miles. There, more than half buried and choked with sand, was an ancient Roman well and a small tomb nearby. The site was considered of no importance historically, except for an ancient Coptic monastery called Wadi Abou Serga, several miles south of the well. It was hard to tell which came first, the dry riverbed or the ancient abbey.
Hassan listened, while eating sparingly with his fingers. She had a feeling he always did two things at once, and each of them well. As she finished, he rinsed his hands in the fingerbowl beside his plate, and she did the same. A servant immediately removed the used fingerbowls and replaced them with a clean one. "And why this particular area? What is so special you had to come all that way?"
Without realizing it, enthusiasm for her subject made her appetite return and she suddenly realized she was starving. Before answering, Trevy took another bite of her second dolma, a tantalizing mixture of lamb and minted rice rolled into a garlicky grape leaf. Wiping the oil from her fingers, she welcomed the change of topic to her theories on ancient astronomy. As if Riad Hassan hadnâ€™t known that all along.
â€œIn all the ancient civilizations, science supported religion, and religion, therefore, had to support science. I think the ancient Egyptians developed a scientific approach to astronomy, not just a religious one, as a lot of people believe. In fact, I think they used science to influence religion and politics, not the other way around. They simply anthropomorphized the astral bodies to represent gods. To me, perfect proof was in the religion of Amon Ra, which worshiped the sun. To do that, they had to follow planetary movements and astral bodies so they must have had observatories. Astronomy was used to create calendars, mark the seasons, and to schedule political events such as coronations and royal weddings. Military expeditions were launched under constellations considered auspicious. Even the construction of buildings and tombs was based on the position of certain stars and constellations. I think they must have had the theory that the earth moved around the sun, not vice versa, long before western civilization figured it out.â€ She hesitated, suddenly embarrassed by her own zeal. â€œOf course, a theory is just a theory unless you have proof. Sorry, I get carried away.â€
â€œAnd your proof is at the Wadi Abou Serga?â€
Here was the trap. â€œItâ€™s just possible that in that remote area, there could have been an observatory. Itâ€™s a perfect place to observe the night sky. Itâ€™s almost as if you can see the universe itself.â€
â€œAnd?â€ It was as if he heard more than her words, - the ambition and frustration, the constant rebuffs from department heads who tried to say she was on a fool's errand. That's all been said and done years ago. Nothing there, forget it.
â€œAnd I think I might have found the proof I need.â€ There, that should satisfy Supersleuth. Trevy caught the implication before he did. â€œThe Wadi is mentioned in a journal kept by an early 19th century explorer. His work has been dismissed as unprofessional, but it was really a record kept by his guide.â€
He seemed to analyze even her silences, like the bits from her plate she didnâ€™t eat, as if wanting to know her reasons for not using them. Or for not divulging any more information than she had to. "And how did you discover this dismissed journal?â€
What he really wanted to know was if she found a reference by reading Kleinhofâ€™s work. She went all airy-fairy, doing the dumb blonde routine. "Serendipity, really. â€ Trevy realized she had just put her foot in it big time.
He raised his eyebrows. â€œOf course.â€ Which meant of course, heâ€™d thought sheâ€™d been studying Kleinhofâ€™s work.
Now, she was blithering, like a sorority girl caught in bed with her boyfriend by the housemother. â€œSee, originally, we were looking for someplace to see the Perseid meteor showers in August. The desert is such perfect place to stargaze. You have to get away from artificial light and haze to really get a good view of the comet and the meteor showers. We researched the best places to see them and the Wadi kept coming up. So we, my friend Cecily and I, went down there.â€ He still wasnâ€™t buying it. She had muddied the waters, bringing Sabitiniâ€™s travel journal into it.
â€œAt least you had a traveling companion. This is another scholar, this Cecily?â€
â€œA visiting scholar here from the University of Cincinnati. We camped out down there for two nights and even if I didnâ€™t find much of anything to support my observatory theory; it was perfect for watching the meteor showers."
"I see. Your assumption was that perhaps there might be some clue there? Like an artifact, for instance.â€ Hassan nodded thoughtfully. For a moment, he gazed up at the ornate ceramic tiles decorating the ceiling of the salon. Islamist tile makers used real gold to illumine their art. She imagined him when off duty, lying on the Recamier couch, studying the ceiling for clues as to their meaning. â€œAnd why not? It is a logical conclusion. If there is a well there, as you say, then where there is water, there is usually some kind of civilization. After all, Wadi is the Arabic word for river. Also, the Abbey of Abou Serga is a very ancient place. It, too, holds many secrets.â€
"I know, itâ€™s kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack, but finding artifacts wasnâ€™t my motivation for being in the area, you understand. I was doing research on the comet. We got a wonderful view of the Persiedâ€™s. Besides, itâ€™s going to be a perfect spot to see the Leonid meteor showers that fall in the wake of the Temple-Tuttle comet. It passes close to the earth every 37 years with a long meteor tail trailing. Iâ€™ve been tracking the orbit of another comet that appeared in the interim years between the Temple-Tuttleâ€™s passing. This one was visible without a telescope in the 1600's and occurs with the rise of the constellation Leo, like the Temple 1 comet. In the year 2012 Temple-Tuttle passed out of the earthâ€™s orbit and itâ€™s possible this one might take its place. Or there is another possibility, a bit more gloomy.â€ She glanced at Inspector Hassan, hoping like a comet, she had left him in a shower of facts. To her disappointment, he didnâ€™t appear to be dazzled, merely intrigued.
â€œAnd that is?â€
â€œThat the first sightings recorded were not the first time the comet entered the earthâ€™s orbit. That it had entered much earlier and its orbit is much closer to Temple-Tuttleâ€™s than actually predicted.â€
Something changed in Inspector Hassanâ€™s urbane expression. Surprise. Doubt. It was hard to know. â€œIn other words, you are saying they would collide.â€
She nodded, realizing she had his full attention, whether he believed her or not. â€œExactly. With dire repercussions for our own universe.â€
â€œI see.â€ The Inspector was clearly impressed. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, his listening eyes never leaving her face. â€œAnd you are trying to verify earlier sightings of that comet? What is it called?â€
â€œCerebus in order to make a prediction of that event?â€ He sat back. â€œVery intriguing, indeed. Now, I, too, am caught up in this mystery. Go on.â€
It occurred to her, after telling him all this, Hassan was very well aware that she had been to Wadi Abou even before she admitted it. But he made a good listener, sipping his coffee, and nodding at appropriate points. But then, listening was part of his profession.
"I told you about this Italian explorerâ€™s journal, right? According to him, he was following the trail of pyramids leading down from Giza to Luxor and somehow, ended up at Wadi Abou Serga. Probably because it had the well. While he was camped there, Sabitini uncovered a small tomb of a minor official of the late dynastic period. Grave robbers had pretty much sacked it, but the mummy was still there. He took it back to Italy with him. He didnâ€™t think much of the tomb, and just closed it up again.â€
â€œMost of the history of Egypt exists in other countries,â€ Hassan remarked drily. â€œAnd who was this mummy? Did he find out?â€
â€œHis Egyptian guide interpreted the hieroglyphs on the sarcophagus as belonging to a magus. Magi could be any sort of wise man, but it was often applied to astronomers or astrologers. The explorer, Sabitini was his name, didnâ€™t carry it any further than that, though. It wasnâ€™t a royal tomb, but whoever the magus was had enough connections to the pharaoh to be buried in a mastaba. He got a proper send-off to the other world. His guide had made crude drawings of the frescoes in the tomb. I believe it shows a man using a telescope. Hard to imagine, huh? And Galileo thought he invented it.â€
â€œActually, the people of the Middle East were using them long before Galileo. However, I think they borrowed the idea from the Chinese.â€ His face relaxed. He was an intelligent man who reserved social pleasures for private occasions. There was a genuiness in his expression, as if the inspector had come out from behind his officious mask of urbane skepticism. â€œI wonder sometimes if those ancient people invented everything and the world just lost it again. But I understand how important that would be. That is, if you could find such a discovery.â€ If he knew anything, the inspector wasnâ€™t about to let on. â€œDid you and your friend see any sign of the tomb Sabatini found when you were there?â€
She had to be careful here. The Department of Antiquities got very hostile with people poking around with permission from the Egyptian government. She told a broad truth without really telling a lie. â€œThere was something kind of lumpy hill in one area, but it could have been part of a riff. And there is a considerable land formation part way down the Wadi. We went a few miles down towards the monastery, but we didnâ€™t want to stray too far from the camp."
That drew a look of reproof from the inspector. â€œEven a few miles from your camp site is too far. You must be careful going places alone, Miss Evans. The desert is not as empty as it appears. â€œ
Trevy had to chuckle, thinking of the little Bedouin boy they caught watching them bathe one morning. â€œI found that out.â€ The inspectorâ€™s dark eyes never seemed to leave her face as if he were probing the motive behind every word. When she told him the story, though, he only got a good laugh, the first one of the evening.
Encouraged she went on describing how she and her roommate, Cecily, had set out in Cecilyâ€™s Land Rover when it bogged down in a low wash. They ended up camping at Wadi Abou Serga after being dropped off by a farmer working a strip of land there. â€œWe were so scared he wouldnâ€™t come back or the Bedouins would take the wheels off the Land Rover while we were gone and leave us stranded. But the trip was well-worth it.â€
Captain Hassan sat back in his chair, apparently satisfied she wasnâ€™t a spy. â€œYou saw what you had come so far to see, then? The Perseid meteor showers. That is all? No small tomb?â€ He waited for her answer as if he knew she hadnâ€™t told the entire truth.
Trevy shook her head. Did her Iowa farm-girl face give her away so easily? She simply didnâ€™t want to tell him she had really found the small mastaba described in Sabitiniâ€™s book of travels.
The same little Bedouin boy had showed up at their camp with two small clay oil lamps that he wanted to sell. The little lamps were typical of those workers had used to light the tombs they were building. When she asked where he had found them, he led them to a shallow place in the sand and dug away like a small desert dog. Using their flashlights, she and Cecily had joined him to dig the sand away. Incredibly, beneath two feet of sand, they discovered an iron grate of the kind often used to cover tombs in the race to prevent rampaging Europeans to loot what was left of Egyptâ€™s antiquities. In the morning, when they had finished clearing the outline of the grate, they discovered it was covering the door of a mastaba. Even better, tomb robbers had knocked the lock off so that the grate was actually open. The mastaba closure, probably a large stone fitted in place, had been hacked away, leaving a hole large enough for a man to get through. The tomb had been emptied of artifacts, if not by a thousand years of Egyptian grave robbers, then another thousand of European grave robbers. The interior was entirely filled with sand allowing nature to do what man could not, preserve the tombâ€™s frescoes as if they had only been painted yesterday, rather than three thousand years ago.
Although they knew they should report the find to the Department of Antiquities, as was the law, she and Cecily had decided to take pictures and write up their experience before notifying the government. They had recovered the opening with sand before the man on the tractor came to pick them up.
Telling the boy they would be back, and giving him enough piasters to buy a hundred bars of chocolate, they swore him to secrecy, promising to bring him a genuine American watch that talked next time they came. They had planned to leave for the Wadi at the end of the week. But Cecily had ended up in the hospital with a whopping case of gyppie tummy.
Skipping over the discovery, she said, â€œOnly a very large lump which could have been just a dune or had something under it. But as we only came to do research and didnâ€™t have the permission or even the equipment for a dig,â€ That part was at least true.
As if indicating the interview was at an end, he wiped his fingers on the towel again. â€œI admire your professional attitude toward our heritage, Miss Evans. Would that Sabitini and other Europeans had been so scrupulous. And did you encounter any other people, other than your tractor driver, Miss Evans?â€
Liquor and fatigue had loosened her tongue, as Hassan no doubt hoped it might. Should she tell him about the wretched group of dark skinned refugees from the Sudan, squatting some distance from the dry Roman well? It was as if the forlorn group had traveled to this particular spot, in hopes of finding relief from the fierce sun. It was the humane but not the politically correct thing to tell him, knowing the Egyptianâ€™s policy on refugees from the holocaust in the Sudan was simply to send them back to their war-torn countries unless they could find work.
â€œOnly some Bedouin nearby. And some Luara.â€ At the mention of the nomadic desert gypsies, he smiled.
â€œYou know them, then. They have been here since the pharaohs ruled. It is said they were the ones who stole the nails meant for Jesusâ€™ cross. Perhaps you should have asked them why they had stopped at a place with no water.â€
â€œYouâ€™re absolutely right! I should have!â€ So why didnâ€™t I?
She looked at him and Riad Hassan was still smiling. This time she returned his smile. â€œYouâ€™d make a good archaeologist.â€ It felt as if he heard more than her words, the constant rebuffs from department heads who tried to say she was on a fool's errand. You're wasting your time, that's all been done years ago. Nothing there, forget it. He even seemed to consider the words she discarded as well and consider her reasons for not using them.
â€œPerhaps you are correct. Perhaps you will discover the clue that will confirm the record of the earlier passage of the comet Cerebus. After all, the astronomers of Amon Ra predicted the equinoxes and solstices for planting and harvesting, did they not? Comets were regarded as omens, good or bad. They would have certainly recorded the passage of the comet you mentioned. That's a true Egyptian quality, attention to detail. They recorded everything that happened on tablets, which of course, were lost or broken over time. But they also backed up their records, so to speak, on temple walls. But, my dear lady scholar, at this time, I cannot permit you to go to such remote places as the Wadi Abou Serga. Not only do I think your life is in danger from whoever killed Dr. Helmut Kleinhof, there are terrorists groups also operating in the desert. So far, their damage has been relatively small, but they are not above kidnapping Americans or any Europeans, for that matter. And there have been dire consequences of those actions."
The gold rim of his coffee cup twinkled in the light from the brazier.
For a moment, she couldnâ€™t take it in. He was forbidding her to go back, maybe for years. â€œBut itâ€™s crucial to my research that I get back there. Like I said, Wadi Abou is exactly the point on earth where the orbits of two comets intersect, every 37 years.â€
Did he believe her? â€œAh,â€ he said, â€œAnd this is the 37th year?â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s the 33rd year, but the orbit of the comet varies 4 years now and then. Thatâ€™s why there could be danger in the future of its path crossing that of Cerebus.â€
â€œAh, yes.â€ The way he said it cast a curtain of question over everything she had previously told him. â€œBut then, what can mere mortals do about such an occurrence?â€
â€œI know it sounds very iffy for science. But I just had a hunch, is all. That there may be pharonic ruins in that area.â€ She dropped her eyes, wrestling with the desire to be honest, yet hide the truth. Besides, tracking the comet and revisiting the little mastaba, there was yet another reason she wanted to return to the Wadi. In a strange way, she had been given another mission, one that had come her way quite by accident. Or now that she thought about it, was it truly coincidence that she had in her possession several artifacts from the Coptic monastery in the Wadi? Not found, but stumbled upon in the Mouskie. She weighed the possibility that these also might be things the Ministry of Antiquities might confiscate, although they were Christian relics which usually didnâ€™t interest them. She tried to appear as if she were concentrating on tasting the mezi, or hundred delights, while she debated over telling him that she had come into possession of these things from the monastery of Abou Serga.
Wandering in the Mouskie, Cairoâ€™s sprawling bazaar, had become a late afternoon habit since it was just coming alive when her last class was over, There was always something to see, and little things to buy as well as beautiful things just to admire on her small stipend as a graduate assistant. Many of these she had found in Aramâ€™s shop, buried in the labrynthian allies of the ancient market.
The Mouskie had probably been a thriving market place during the Crusades and something of a flea market, even in Roman times. Divided into specific sections or souks, according to the product sold there, it was frequented by Egyptians and tourists alike. Bits and pieces of every civilization passing through Egypt had wound up in its shops, along with the necessities of everyday life such as spices, rugs, and clothing. The narrow alleys between the shops and stalls were made only for pedestrians and donkey carts and negotiating the streets on foot meant both watching your wallet or where you were stepping almost simultaneously.
Aram, her hot antiquities connection, had a shop somewhat off the main donkey track, down a few winding allies where the noise abated and the odors intensified. The delicious smell of kabobs roasting on outdoor spits mixed raw sewage and rotting garbage. The spice souk was the only place one could inhale deeply without choking. She had to pass among enormous bags of cinnamon, cloves, and turmeric to get to Aramâ€™s street in the gold souk. At one point, she was forced to edge by a sheep nibbling at a pile of refuse in the narrow passageway leading to the gold souk.
In contrast to the alleyway, the interior of Aramâ€™s shop was luxurious; incense-permeated, and heavily carpeted in Persian rugs. Customary tourist items like gleaming brass trays and tea sets, mashribbiyya screens, and Roman amphorae were sprinkled around the front room to tempt tourists. The serious items were in the back, behind thick velvet curtains, cleverly hidden in sports sneakers and microwave ovens.
Aram himself rushed out to greet her. â€œMiss Evans, what a pleasure to see you!â€ One of Aramâ€™s attractions for visiting foreigners was his perfect English, learned in Chicago, and the fact he never forgot a name or an interest. â€œCome in and refresh yourself. â€œ He clapped his hands for the ubiquitous tea, but the small boy who responded brought her an American Coke - with ice. It was worth the trip, but she had more on her mind, something Aram already knew. â€œTell me what treasure hunt brings you to my humble door today?â€
What she loved about Aram was, he got right to the point. No dickering around with fancy coffee sets and brass trays. He sat down on the royal stool opposite her, appreciative of a pretty woman and even more appreciative of a good sale.
She took a sip of the coke and closed her eyes, content for a few seconds. It was genuine black market soda, not the ersatz Egyptian kind. â€œI was just wondering if anything had come your way from the lower desert around Wadi Abou Serga lately.â€ It was better to lay it on the line to Aram. Chances were he knew what you were after anyway, before you opened your mouth.
â€œWadi Abou Serga?â€ The response was a characteristic expression of total innocence. â€œSo remote a place, Miss Trevy. There is nothing there, I believe, but an old Coptic monastery. Is it something Coptic youâ€™re looking for? A relic, perhaps?â€
Something about his expression made her alter the statement quickly. â€œNot Coptic, unless you have something really interesting, that is. I was wondering if anything pharonic or even Roman had turned up from around there.â€
â€œLet me show you what I have and you can be the judge of that statement.â€ Aram rang a small brass bell on the table beside him and a young man appeared through the curtains. They exchanged a few words in a language Trevy took to be Armenian Arabic and the young man nodded. Aramâ€™s family had sought refuge in Cairo in the early 1900's from the Russian purges of Armenia. Primarily specializing in the gold trade, they had steadfastly maintained their culture, language, and religion in spite of persecution under various regimes in the succeeding century.
Aram turned back to smile at her. â€œMy son,â€ he said, with obvious pride. â€œHe is learning the trade and appears to have a very good eye for pieces of importance. It is he who purchased what you are about to see.â€
Trevy returned the revelation with a compliment. â€œUndoubtedly, he has everything to learn from his father who has the best eye in Cairo for a find.â€ She wanted to add, legal or not, but Aram would not take that as a joke. He paid good money for everything, whether they were considered â€œhotâ€ or not. That kept the buyerâ€™s end of the transaction legal in his eyes.
His son had returned with a pair of large brass candlesticks in an ornate style marking them as Christian, probably from the Turkish period, judging by the rather oriental style of the engraving. â€œVery nice.â€ She nodded, not looking terribly interested which was etiquette. Pilfered ornaments from Coptic churches or items confiscated under Nasserâ€™s pressure campaign on the Coptics to become Muslim were particularly abhorrent to her.
Reading disapproval in her expression, Aram waved them away. â€œI only wanted to show you because he is so proud of them. Perhaps seeing such items offends you?â€
â€œIâ€™m only glad they didnâ€™t come from an Armenian church,â€ she replied with as much tact as she was capable of.
Aram got the point. â€œI apologize, but you see, there is such a demand for these things in Europe.â€
â€œAram, you do what you have to do and so do I. Is there anything else?â€
His son returned with a small tray of mint tea. â€œHi, Miss Evans.â€ He was about her age, or a few years younger. His English was strictly stateside with only a slight accent. â€œYou donâ€™t recognize me, do you?â€
She did a mental search of her three classes, trying to place him. â€œSorry, I donâ€™t know everybody in my classes yet. You can tell Iâ€™m new at this.â€
Aramâ€™s pride in the tall young man was evident as he gestured for him to put the tray down. â€œMy son, Bedros, Miss Evans. I make him become useful because he is very costly otherwise.â€
â€œCall me Pete. Iâ€™m in your ten oâ€™clock anthro class.â€ The younger Alexanian set the tray on an ornate wooden stool beside her. â€œAll the guys think youâ€™re very cute!â€
â€œBedros!â€ Aram looked apologetic. â€œSince he was in the States, he has forgotten all his manners. Please excuse him.â€
â€But your English is so good!â€ She shook hands with Peter Alexanian, whose American accent was matched by his jeans and sneakers.
â€œI flunked at Case Western last semester.â€ He glanced at his fatherâ€™s disapproving face. â€œSo I came back.â€
Aram looked disgruntled. â€œAnd he will stay here and pursue his studies rather than girls if he makes another failing grade. Now, what do you think of this?â€ He handed her a small icon painted on wood. â€œUnique, yes?â€
She couldnâ€™t keep the admiration from showing. The icon was beautifully executed in the archaic style of the Early Christian period. It depicted a Roman soldier with staring Byzantine eyes flanked by two children dressed in white tunics who appeared to represent angels. Behind him, a large rock with a sword in it spouted a stream of water. A sheep drank from the small pool below the rock, and above those figures, a bird with a streaming tail flew through a pale yellow sky. Trimmed with gold leaf, the small icon had been lacquered over with a substance made for goatsâ€™ or horsesâ€™ hooves that had yellowed and cracked with age. She turned it over looking for some sort of signature of this medieval artist. â€œNice, but itâ€™s a copy. Looks like itâ€™s an old one though. Early Christian era, maybe Byzantine age.â€
â€œAh, thatâ€™s the problem. If the artists had signed it, we could date it for sure. Even a good copy brings a decent price. But, as it is....â€ He held his hand palms up, the sign of question. â€œWe were thinking perhaps you could help us date it.â€
â€œItâ€™s probably a copy of an earlier icon. Maybe even done in the medieval period judging by the glaze and the lifelike quality of the figure. The earlier icons were much more two-dimensional. Iâ€™ve never seen the dove image portrayed like that, though. It has a design like quality.â€ She looked closer at the bird figure. â€œLong streaming tail feathers. Embarrassing to be so ignorant of Coptic religion, but my field is so narrow.â€ She handed back the icon. â€œI donâ€™t even know who this represents.â€
Aram appeared delighted to instruct. â€œI think it is a Coptic saint, Sergius. Somewhat in the late Roman period. He was a Roman army officer in Egypt who became Christian and performed a few miracles before he was killed. One of the miracles occurred when he struck a huge stone in the desert with his sword and water came out. When he died, it is said a dove flew out of his mouth and into the sky.â€
â€œHow did he die?â€
Aram shrugged. â€œWho knows? Probably on a cross like many others.â€
She followed where she felt he was leading her. â€œAnd was that here in Cairo?â€
â€œNo, at Wadi Abou Serga. He lived there before he died and began to fast and perform miracles. Healing people, the usual thing. And one day, the water from the local well dried up and people and animals began to be thirsty. So he struck a great rock with his sword and said, â€œIn the name of the Giver of Life water will flow from the rocks,â€™ and, voila! Water poured out and became a river.â€
It was another magical tale of the sort Egyptians loved to create. Trevy studied the small wooden icon for a moment. There was something intriguing about it, in spite of the crude artwork. Saint Sergius appeared to be a sincere young man with a sweet face any mother would love. The lacquer had darkened and was delicately cracked like the veins of a leaf. â€œHow much do you want for this? Iâ€™m not even sure how much itâ€™s worth on the market.â€
Aramâ€™s nonchalant shrug was always an indication his attitude was anything but disinterested. â€œNot much at all, only a few pounds. Letâ€™s say, ten.â€
â€œTen pounds?â€ She knew better than to bargain with him, but it was a courtesy to try. â€œBut it isnâ€™t even signed!â€
â€œWhich decreases its value, of course. But the European dealers will snap it up in a minute. I only offered it to you because you are familiar with the area. For you, eight pounds.â€
â€œEight and a half pounds. I can go no lower. I have to pay my contact there.â€ He sighed as if she were robbing him of his retirement savings. â€œAll right for you, eight pounds. Only for you would I make such a sacrifice.â€
She thought of the small tomb at Wadi Abou and her suspicion grew. The little Bedouin boy who had showed it to her might also be doing a lively trade in Roman artifacts. Playing out the moment a little longer, she held the small wooden piece up for scrutiny. â€œItâ€™s rather unique looking. Does your contact have any connection with the monastery itself?â€
It was never good to question Aram too closely. â€œBut if you donâ€™t care for it, I can always...â€ He rang the bell to call his son. â€œBring you something better.â€
â€œNo, wait!â€ She held tightly to the icon. â€œSeven-and-a half pounds, firm. I actually like this little thing.â€
Again, Aram assumed the martyrâ€™s role. â€œOnly for you. Seven and a half.â€
â€œThe reason I asked you about your contact is, I was just interested in getting something else along these lines.â€ She hesitated, playing on his interest in making another sale. â€œOr even Roman. You know, early Christian things are becoming very sought after in the international market.â€
â€œYou have a good eye for trade, I see.â€ Aramâ€™s eyes lit with inspired salesmanship. â€œAbsolutely correct, Assiti. But I have nothing else at this time to show you. Perhaps, sometime in the future, however....â€ he shrugged, â€œwho knows? Now, if you were to be able to get me some American cigarettes, perhaps we could work something satisfactory out for both of us.â€ He gave his son another withering look. â€œMy source for American cigarettes has since dried up.â€
She was leaving the shop with the icon wrapped safely in white paper, tied with string when Aram stopped her with a question. â€œAre you returning to Wadi Abou anytime soon, Assiti?â€
â€œIt depends on a number of things. I certainly wonâ€™t go until it gets cooler. Why?â€ She put on her sunglasses to look at him in the glare streaming through the door.
The shopkeeper had picked up the brass candlesticks. â€œBecause, if you do go, I would like for you to return these to the rightful owners. I do not feel, let us say, comfortable with them here.â€ He wrapped them up in brown paper and handed them to her. â€œMay your journey be both safe and fruitful.â€
â€œI have lost you.â€ Startled back to the present, Trevy looked up to find Hassan watching her with something like amusement behind his expression. "I know you are tired and the shock of what you have experienced today is beginning to take effect. But tell me this, Miss Evans. Do you know if the unfortunate Dr. Kleinhof was also interested in this Wadi Abou Serga?"
If he thought he was catching her off-guard, he was wrong. "I hardly think so. I'm the first one to even remember it was there in eighty years! And it was only just coincidence as I told you."
â€œRemarkable!â€ He might as well have said tell me another one, lady.
She sighed. â€œOkay, I was in the American University library doing some research in the Rare Manuscripts section and I called for a specific volume. But I must have reversed two numbers because they said theyâ€™d have to request it from the Cairo Museum Rare Manuscripts Department. Two days later, there was a book waiting for me, one I hadnâ€™t intended to order. It was the travel journal by Sabitini.â€
â€œAh!â€ Hassan clapped his hands twice and ignored the servant who appeared in the doorway. "I salute you, Miss Evans. Not only are you brave, but you are persistent. And truly enthused about your work, I can see." He waved the servant and the tray away. "But I must ask you not to leave Cairo without having proper escort. Besides another young lady, that is. And please inform me that you are making plans. Here is my personal card. Call me at any time."
She recognized the traditional signal that refreshments were no longer offered and it was time to leave. She had passed the test, or at least she was off the hook for the moment. Trevy stood up, swaying slightly as the sherry went to her head and Inspector Hassan reached out to steady her. "It would please me very much to talk to you another time about this. But I think now, you must rest. This has been a trying experience for you and I hope that, in no way, does it affect your opinion of our beautiful land."
"Nothing could ever do that. Not even that dreadful thing this afternoon." She took his hand and came closer to him than she would have liked. A slight brush of her skirt against his body was much too close in Middle Eastern terms of male-female space and she flattened it to her side. "I love it here. It's the most fascinating place I have ever been or ever hope to be. It seems all my questions begin here and find answers. And all my mysteries, too." He caught her hand in both of his for a moment, and then bowed slightly, as if he intended to kiss it.
"There is an old saying â€˜Egypt is the mother of us all.â€™ Perhaps, you are truly a daughter of the Nile. Everyone and everything has begun here at some time in history. But then, perhaps that is a bit ethnocentric." Hassan escorted her out into the incredible cool of a desert night. The vast city sparkled around them, an urban Milky Way of twinkling lights. The dirt and poverty had given way to the magic of night blooming jasmine and a pool where flowers danced under crystal drops from a tiered fountain. The moment was something from her girlish fantasies as she lay on the floor of her fatherâ€™s farmhouse, reading Egypt, Land of the Pharaohs.
She tried to answer with what was left of her reason. "More likely a great-granddaughter."
"Then, if that were true, perhaps, we too, have met somewhere before." With a slight bow, he helped her into the car. "If you don't mind, I will give you a call tomorrow or the next day. Just to see how you are doing. Perhaps we can plan a dinner together instead of making it a total surprise. By this time, you will be able to work up an appetite, I hope. Tell me, have you ever eaten at the foot of the Great Pyramid? There is the most splendid little restaurant there with a most admirable view of the night stars."
As the official Mercedes sped away, he was standing in the doorway of the villa, looking up at the stars. Instead of going inside, he walked out to the fountain until the iron gates had let them through. Then, as she turned around to look at him again, he waved and she was embarrassed he caught her looking back.
Her own small villa was 15 miles down the Nile in Maadi, the site of the royal summer palace of Egyptâ€™s last line of kings. Lush with flowering trees and gardens surrounding luxury villas, the town was a favorite with Europeans and Americans alike. She shared a small house with Cecily Dawson who had come down with a bad case of gyppie tummy from indulging in a passion for fresh salad and was recuperating in the University infirmary. Hassanâ€™s chauffeur followed her directions expertly steering through the quiet streets as if he knew them.
As the driver got out to open the car door, she was startled to see a man standing in the shadows near her front door. He was short and chubby, wearing a shiny serge suit with fortyish lapels and a G-man hat. His western dress looked even more peculiar since he wore his trousers tucked up into calf length boots, Turkish style, to keep them out of the filth in the streets and the mud of the garden.
"Who on earth are you and what are you doing in my garden?" She wasnâ€™t exactly sure what posture to adopt since the man hardly appeared to be a beggar.
"I am Mohamed Ibrahim Moises Yeshua Yusef at your command." The man in the garden shadows bowed very low, replying in colonial English.
The short figure was sheltered by the night jasmine vines and only vaguely illumined by the porch light. "Who?"
"Your friendly and soon to be favorite secret policeman. I get tips at Christmas and Ramadan." He bowed again. "I am fortunately named after the seven prophets by my sainted mother for luck."
She waved him away like a bad dream. "Please go home and come back in the morning. It's cold out and I have nowhere for you to stay."
"There is no problem," Mohamed replied. "The gardener will let me sleep in his house. Please to be retired, Miss. Sleep well in assurance you are protected by Allah and Mohamed."
The chauffeur nodded, all in favor of the arrangement. â€œItâ€™s okay, Miss. Inspector Effendi Hassan has sent him to guard your villa.â€
Trevy relaxed a little. This was Inspector Hassanâ€™s way of letting her know he wasnâ€™t about to let her out of his grip. "Courtesy of Chief Inspector Hassan, for my convenience and safety, no doubt."
In the shelter of the bushes, Mohammed's smile glistened among the leaves. "Hada, Miss. Chief Inspector, he not want anything more bad to happen to you." This was Egypt and good jobs were hard to find. "Also, you rich American tip very good!â€
In an hour, she had barely settled down to sleep, when she was startled awake by the sound of the telephone, something rare in her small villa. It couldnâ€™t be Boris, he would be at home watching TV with his mother, and Cecilyâ€™s hospital room didnâ€™t have a phone. Glancing at the clock, she hesitated to pick it up. The machine picked up Stephan Drake's voice. "I hope you're asleep and pick this message up in the morning. I called much earlier and you should have been there by now. Unless you have a secret life, let me know you're okay. I sleep suspended from the ceiling by my toes, as my students have suspected all along."
That night, the dream of the falling man returned. He fell in a slow spiral from the temple scaffolding and her body tensed as she helplessly anticipated his fatal landing. This time, he was trying to say something. His mouth opened and she could see his face. But the face was not Dr. Helmut Kleinhofâ€™s. It was Inspector Riad Hassan. Before he struck the fence, she sat bolt upright, breathing as if she had just run a mile.
The only light in the room came from the garden below, where Mohamed and his gardener friend slept beside the glowing brazier. She sat there, for a moment, listening to the sounds of the night, and blotting her perspiring face. The air conditioner was on the blink, but ordinarily early November nights were very cool. Tonight, however, was airless and oppressive. She got up and splashed cold water on her face. In the mirror, the face looking back was tanned and pale. A golden girl with curly golden hair; her large, dark eyes shadowed by faint circles of exhaustion. Now, she was a girl who had seen a man falling to his death and again in her dreams. She was about to go out to the kitchen for some water when a sound made her freeze in mid-motion. Something fell in the outer room. She waited, holding her breath, thinking it must be her cat. Then another sound came again, more insistent but still barely perceptible. A scratching noise. Izwid was probably scratching in litter box in the bathroom. But the sound came again with an elongated squeak, like a door opening slowly. There was someone in the next room, Cecilyâ€™s vacant bedroom.
She stood there at the sink, transfixed for a moment. Then a piece of furniture bumped against the mutual wall and galvanized her into action. Pulling a T-shirt over her short pajamas, she went to the window opening out onto the flat rooftop. Soundlessly, she unlatched the screen at the bottom and slipped over the windowsill to the clay tile roof. Like most Egyptian houses, the upstairs of the villa had a roof area used to dry clothes or bathe in hot weather. She and Cecily used it to sunbathe.
But the double doors were locked and she was afraid the sound of opening them would alert the prowler. To get to the flat section of the roof, she had to cross over the inclined part, which was slippery with early morning dew. Moving at a crouch, she made it across to the flat part where she had a good view the garden below. Mohamed Ibrahim and Ramadan had eaten dinner beside the brazier along with a few other people she couldnâ€™t see, and now reclined beside the burning coals.
Behind her, in Cecilyâ€™s bedroom, a single flashlight was gliding around as if the intruder were searching for something. If she shouted at the men below, she would take the chance of alerting the burglar of her presence.
Then the light disappeared. That could only mean the prowler had left or was coming to her room, the next one down the hall. The door handle turned slowly, but she remembered locking it. It would take a few seconds for him to come down the hall to her room. She had to find a way to stay out of sight.
Looking down from her vantage point on the roof, she could see part of the street in front of the villa. A slight mist had settled around the villas as cool air created the slight moisture that encouraged the lush foliage in the area.
Usually, the streets were empty since the residents all had garages and driveways behind locked gates to discourage the casual thief. However, tonight she could make out a vehicle parked a little way from the front of the villa across the street, but she was too far and the light was too dim to make out the model or color. Looking up, she saw the light flashing around her own room. It occurred to her then, the intruder would see her bed had been slept in and the open window. Slipping over the edge, Trevy flattened herself against the tiles, praying the copper gutters would bear her hundred pound weight.
As she edged along the gutter, her hand encountered a loose clay tile. Prying it loose, she hurled it down into the garden where it landed with a clatter. But the group around the fire was engaged in lively conversation. Their soft voices drowned out the noise. Ramadanâ€™s desert dog began to bark. The gardener reached out to swat at the dog, but missed and gave up. The dog slunk away, but circled the garden and came back below her, growling. Anxiously, she looked back up at her bedroom window.
She risked a soft whistle, making the dog bark even more frantically. It began racing over to the hedge around the garden path and then back to the sleeping men. Finally, Mohamed rose up, yawning and cursing the wily dog who evaded missiles from all sides, running over again to bark at Trevy up on the veranda roof.
â€œEskut, ibnik kelb!â€ Ramadan was about to join the Securitie guard in chasing the dog when the gardener suddenly stopped short. Pointing up at the wandering light in her room, he shouted, â€œYallah!â€
As they raced out of the garden and around to the front of the house, neither of the men saw her clinging to the roof above them. Making enough noise to raise the dead, they began pounding on the front door. â€œAssit! Assit!â€
Finally, she had to shout, â€œMohamed, Iâ€™m over here.â€ It was lost in the racket they were making.
At that moment, there was a thump on the roof above her and hurried footsteps as someone raced across the roof. Clinging like a barnacle to the tiles, Trevy was convinced that if she were seen, the intruder would finish her off.
Just then a figure in dark clothing slid down the low side of the roof and jump off into the thick hedge surrounding the garden. The man must have landed on his feet, because heavy footsteps followed, crashing through the flowerbeds and down the gravel path. The gardenerâ€™s dog dashed after the running burglar, barking furiously. Then another dark figure rose up from the thick foliage along the path and a cudgel the size of a fence post arced down, striking the intruder to the ground. Another solid thump followed and the man fell into the shrubbery.
The dog tore furiously at the man as the robed figure continued to beat him with the stick. Somewhere down the street, a car started up, roared up to the front of the villa. Two men jumped out and began dragging the pummeled burglar out to the waiting car. As Trevy watched astonished, the robed figure gave battle swinging his cudgel until he could no longer reach his prey. Then as Mohamed and the gardener came running around the garden path, he sank back into the thicket around the garden. Seeing the waiting car in the street, the would-be rescuers rushed towards it shouting and shaking their fists, but the car sped away, rear doors still partially ajar and a shoeless foot hanging out.
In vain, Trevy tried to attract their attention, but they were too busy yelling at the retreating car. Finally, she crawled back through the open window into her bedroom. The police would come out in the morning, make triplicate reports, and find nothing. As in most cases, law and order was enthusiastically enforced on the spot by local citizens who would want ample baksheesh for handing out punishment as well.
Throwing herself down again, she tried to sleep, squeezing out the vision of Dr. Kleinhofâ€™s fall to his death, which reappeared regularly as if her memory were on rewind. At last she gave up and lay there with her eyes wide open, listening to the throbbing crickets, and the barking of desert dogs until Nut the Sky Goddess covered her with the star blanket of sleep
When she started off to the University in the morning, Mohamed Ibrihim was behind her in a rattletrap Fifty-six Ford, one of those prized vehicles in Egypt that stayed together with duct tape, and homespun parts. Her eight o'clock class was supervised by an Egyptian professor who frowned on tardiness, especially in female graduate students. However it was impossible to do more than twenty-five mph through the crowded medans of Cairo. The rush hour traffic was a thick amalgamation of wagons, reeling busses, herds of animals as well and nimble-footed pedestrians darting like dragonflies through the mix. Fighting off the impulse to ditch Mohamed, she threaded her way through the hubbub. Hoping to pick up some time, she took a less traveled street through the City of the Dead, which led to the University through the old quarter. Her pursuer's struggling vehicle was soon swallowed up in the traffic behind her and she suppressed a slight twinge of victoriousness over the ease with which she had lost him.
Making a sharp turn off the Corniche, she picked up speed along the wider two-lane road that cut through Cairoâ€™s vast cemetery. The City of the Dead was indeed another city in itself, its winding streets weaving through miles and miles of tombs. Since it was an Egyptian custom to visit the tomb of the deceased at least once a week for a year, bringing them food and the latest gossip, even reading them the newspaper so they wouldnâ€™t lose track of current events, the City of the Dead looked very lively even on weekdays. Crowds of dedicated mourners, as well as those who could not afford apartment rents in the city of the living, crossed the street passed through its gates, bearing groceries, gifts and flowers, and radios so the departed could catch up on the news. Approaching a crowd of mourners crossing the street towards the cemeteryâ€™s south gate, she instinctively put her foot on the brake to slow the car. Her foot went to the floor. Nothing happened. As she drifted towards the group, she yanked on the hand brake, but the car remained moving at the same speed. The entire brake system was gone.
Pushing the car horn as hard as she could, she started steering around them, but another car passing on the left was blocking the way. Immediately taking her foot off the accelerator, she pulled on the emergency lights, hoping either the driver beside her would notice or the mourners would get the picture. But the grave-goers continued chatting and laughing without even glancing at the oncoming traffic. In spite what Egyptian motorists thought, Egypt was still a pedestrian country.
â€œLook this way, people!â€ she shouted, hitting the horn as hard as she could. But it was lost in a cacophony of other horns. The people continued on, unheeding. The driver on her left kept pace with her nonchalantly, apparently not realizing her dilemma. Finally, she rolled down the window and waved at him to move up to let her over. He smiled and waved back, flattered by her attention. A mental picture raced in front of her of being dismembered by angry groups of mourners for having plowed into their midst. It happened all too frequently in Cairo to unfortunate foreign motorists.
A hundred or so yards from them, one of the mourners glanced in her direction, and screamed an alarm. Shouting curses and making the sign of the evil eye, they all rushed out of the way as she sailed by them, still honking the horn.
In her rear view mirror, she saw them hurling rocks and bottles from their lunch baskets at her. She exhaled only momentarily. An even greater challenge was coming up. A busy traffic medan at the intersection of several main streets was swarming with morning traffic. Bedouin carts, herds of sheep, lorries, and what seemed to be a slow moving carousel of cars provided an almost impenetrable barrier.
Although the car had begun to decelerate slowly as she approached the medan intersection, she was still in the center lane, blocked by traffic to her right. The car behind her was determined to push her aside with its bumper if need be. She put on her turning signal to warn the car tailgating her she was moving over.
But this was Cairo and traffic signals were for foreigners. Drivers raced by her in both lanes, honking and ignoring the emergency lights. Directly in front of her, in the upcoming medan, a white-gloved Cairo policeman stood directing traffic. He turned casually to glance behind him and saw her coming on, in spite of the fact he was allowing traffic to turn across her path.
Frowning at this flaunting of the law, he held up his hand and blew his whistle, standing directly in front of her. Trevy put both hands on the horn and pushed as the car drifted slowly into the intersection. The policeman still had the whistle in his mouth when he realized she wasnâ€™t going to stop. Racing out of the way, he leaped to safety onto the sidewalk as she passed between two Bedouin carts, narrowly missing a flock of sheep. Vegetables flew in her wake as they pelted her with whatever was handy to throw. So far, the Evil Eye wasnâ€™t working.
Two blocks later, she finally steered the car into a curb where it stopped. Putting her head down on her folded arms for a moment, she offered up a silent prayer. A rapid tapping on the window interrupted the grateful moment. Peering in the window was the long nosed face of her secret policeman, Mohamed Ibrahim. The man appeared to be pale and shaking.
â€œAssiti, are you magnoon? Such bad driving is not good for American ladies!â€
She rolled down the window slowly. â€œWhatâ€™s your name again?â€
He responded with dignity. â€œMohamed Ibrahim Musa Yeshua, named for seven prophets.â€
â€œThatâ€™s only four.â€
He counted on his fingers. â€œOther three are secret names, known only to my mother.â€
She closed her eyes. â€œI think we just used all seven up anyway. Look, Mohamed Ibrahim, I have no brakes in the car this morning and I need to get to class. Do you think you can give me a ride?â€
Glowing with the feeling he was needed, Mohamed flashed a gold-capped smile. â€œMost assuredly, assiti. And I will have someone fix your car, too. It will be at your service promptly at noon, just like me.â€
â€œAre you sure you can fix it? How do you know whatâ€™s wrong?â€™
â€œIt is a simple matter. Somebody tell me they going to cut your brake cable. You left hurriedly before I could intelligence you on this matter. Thatâ€™s why I follow you.â€ Inspector Hassan was right. Egypt taught one patience, albeit throught gritted teeth.
The American University was located in a quarter just outside the gates of the original city of Masr in a quarter of the city, which was older than time as it is known in the Western world.
â€œWhat do you expect? Boris was at his usual table that morning. Amid Roman pillars and Arabian fountains, the Russian language professor was pretending to read the French language newspaper while he flirted with two pretty French students having coffee nearby. To Trevyâ€™s irritation, he shrugged off the whole incident of last nightâ€™s intruder as commonplace. â€œThis is Egypt. Theft is an art, if not a common past time. You need a man in the house, preferably in the bed. I would shoot intruders dead.â€ Boris spread his hands in a gesture of completion. â€œDone deal.â€
â€œIs it customary to assign a secret policeman to stand guard over your house?â€
â€œWhat do you say?" Boris put down his newspaper.
"I have my own personal secret policeman with seven names. I'd probably get mugged while calling name number four. Poor thing has to be the relative of some bigwig. He canâ€™t walk and chew gum at the same time."
Tucking in his napkin into his shirt collar, Boris dug into marmalade and sweet rolls. "That follows. You are witness to violent murder, I am afraid. In Cairo, especially, people are almost never murdered, that makes you a significant person."
"Apparently I'm even more significant to somebody else. Hassan told me they could be after me as well. And this morning, somebody cut my brakes."
It was enough to get the Russian professor's attention. Boris stopped munching, and put down his roll. "They? Who is this â€˜Theyâ€™? Gangsters? We got those in Russia, believe me. All in government."
"I don't know. I just know Kleinhof was shot and the same gunman could be after me, that's all. Maybe just because I was a witness or it has something to do with being in the same field. This is getting to be a nightmare. I could have been killed this morning. And guy in this truck wouldnâ€™t let me pull over, the jerk."
"Maybe the police think you shot this man from professional jealousy? The world of scholars is very competitive." Boris raised his thick brows to show he was kidding. "How good is your aim?"
"Sorry. I couldn't shoot the broad side of a barn. But, itâ€™s funny, thatâ€™s what Inspector Hassan thought, too.â€ She toyed with a piece of muffin. â€œHe thinks Iâ€™m some kind of spy. I hope I changed his mind.â€
The Russian professor shrugged. "If this policeman thinks you work for the U.S. government, itâ€™s a good excuse to follow you around. Also, you have nice legs."
She suddenly needed coffee very badly, and started fishing in her purse for money. "He'll have a hard time finding something interesting about me. I lead a very dull life. Or I did up until now." She stood up to go to the snack stand.
â€œReally? Yesterday, man drops off building in front of you. Last night, you are burgled. This morning somebody cuts your brakes. Now, police is telling you somebody may shoot you. This is not a dull life, but maybe a very short one.â€ Boris frowned, as he wiped the crumbs delicately from his dark chin. "Look, Trevy, you are the first American girl with whom I could be friends. Back in my country, I got twenty girls want to marry me. That's why I teach out of country - to stay single. More money for me so I can be international playboy, you know what I'm meaning? You need somebody virile, full of muscles, and very, very sexy.â€
â€œBut I donâ€™t know anybody like that.â€ She kept her face expressionless to tease him.
â€œIâ€™m suggesting myself.â€ Very little dented Borisâ€™ ego. â€œStars is a little out of my ballpark but, hey, anybody can learn, yes? Just don't go alone. You getting the driftwood?"
Trevy patted his hand. "Thanks, Boris. That was an international gesture and I appreciate it, but I'm not in any danger. No one's ever tried to bother me and I've been out on lots of sites and digs in the two years. Now, let me go. Iâ€™ve got a class."
Boris gulped down the last of his espresso. "Got to be moving farther along, also. You busy for lunch? I like eating with you. It's better than reading adulterous magazine."
Trevy patted his arm. "Remind me to give you a few tips on being cool."
"Cool?" Boris wiped his glistening brow. "Is that American joke? How can one be cool in this furnace of a city?"
Her late morning class had already assembled when she arrived, most of them chattering in Arabic. The usual clutch of hecklers was present, barely glancing up from their laptops when she came in. She had to raise her voice to get their attention and gradually, the chatter subsided. They sat looking at her, some with blatant challenge in their eyes, others with a kindly expression because she was not much older than they were. She felt she was wearing her insecurity like a theme park T-shirt. The leader of the anti-American contingent was sprawled in his desk, barely giving her the courtesy of his full attention.
â€œFirst of all, I have some papers to hand back.â€ There was a collective movement to attention. â€œIâ€™ve corrected last weekâ€™s assignment which was a short autobiography.â€ She made a pretense of extracting a clutch of papers from her briefcase. â€œMost of you did an outstanding job.â€ Her glance lingered on the leader of the hecklers while she scanned her role for his name. â€œAnd others have a long way to go in the area of self-expression.â€ Calling their names, she walked through the room distributing papers until she was left with the last one. It had to be his, the arrogant one in khakis and a T-shirt with a picture of the president of the United States with a thick black diagonal line across it, the universal sign for negation. â€œAnd Mrâ€¦ Mr. Kouyoumjian, I believe this is yours.â€ She kept smile encouraging and her voice loud enough for the rest of the class to hear. â€œI know you can do better next time.â€
He had written only two lines on his paper, typed on a computer in bold print and capital letters. â€˜What do you want to know for? Are you a CIA spy?â€
In reply, she had written, â€˜Mr. Kouyoumjian, let me know if you didnâ€™t understand the assignment. Iâ€™ll try to help you. P.S.: â€˜What do you want to know for?â€™ is incorrect since it contains a dangling preposition. The correct way to phrase the question is â€˜Why do you want to know?â€™ For further questions, see me.â€™ Following that, she had printed a neat â€œFâ€.
Kouyoumjian wasnâ€™t the type to take one-upmanship from a mere graduate student, especially a female. Obliquely, she watched him read the comment and then shift angrily in his seat as if he had suddenly become uncomfortable. She was well into a lecture on sequencing events when he burst out, cutting her off in mid-sentence. â€œI havenâ€™t paid all this money to be taught by another student.â€
She waited a heartbeat. â€œIn that case, address your complaints to the Bursarâ€™s office. I can hardly give you a refund on my salary.â€
The gratifying laughter from the other students made Kouyoumjian even angrier. â€œYou shouldnâ€™t even be getting paid! Youâ€™re just practicing on us!â€ But he had lost the battle for supremacy as other voices hooted him down. An Egyptian girl raised in Paris tackled him in French while a Lebanese student berated him in Arabic.
Realizing she had lost control of the situation, she picked up her cell phone. â€œIf you continue to disturb my class, Mr. Kouyoumjian, I will call the Securitie guards to have you removed. â€œ She pretended to dial, but he preempted her bluff with one of his own.
Throwing his textbook to the floor, Kouyoumjian jumped to his feet and addressed the others. â€œEveryone who wants a better teacher follow me.â€ He went to the door alone and turned back. The other students remained seated. â€œYouâ€™re all a pack of cowards in the palm of the American imperialists,â€ he shouted and slammed the door behind him.
There was a slight pause and the Egyptian girl raised her hand. â€œI didnâ€™t get what you were saying about relevance, Miss Evans. Could you explain a little more about it?â€ The girl parked her delicate chin on her hands and smiled. â€œI couldnâ€™t hear you for all the noise. That person is not an Egyptian and has no right to speak for us. Obviously, he doesnâ€™t understand our culture dictates courtesy before all things. Now, you were saying?â€
In spite out of the row in the classroom, she felt good about her victory over political activists like Kouyoumjian and the support from her students. After class was over, most of them stayed to gather around her, sitting on the desks to talk and give dramatic parodies of Kouyoumjianâ€™s final speech.
â€œI wanted to play the Marseille so he would have music to accompany him,â€ one young man joked, â€œbut I didnâ€™t bring my violin.â€ He leaped to his feet and shouted, â€œAllons, enfants! A la pizzeria!â€ His imitation of Kouyoumjian brought shouts of laughter and more clowning around. They invited her to have coffee with them, and it was nearly eleven when she got to the Rare Manuscripts section of the University library.
The feeling that she had at last bridged the culture gap between herself and her students somewhat lessened the impact of the cut brake cable. Besides, concentrating on Kleinhofâ€™s work might give her some insight into why someone might have wanted him dead. Even more importantly, why someone might want her to join Kleinhof.
There was another reason for hanging out in the library as well. Suppose Mohamed Ibrihim himself had cut the brakes? Suppose he was really in the pay of the assassins? In that case, she wasnâ€™t too eager to get back in the car to find out if they were repaired or not.
When Hassan had asked her if she had studied Helmut Kleinhofâ€™s work, she had fudged a little. She had read a few of Kleinhofâ€™s articles previously in one of her astronomy courses. Of course, he was an important figure in the field of astrophysics. But her knowledge of the scope of his work was limited to a few theories on comets and their composition. There was obviously more to Dr. Kleinhofâ€™s attraction for a killer than something as irrelevant to the world at large as comets. Whatever it was, it was drastically affecting her life and she had to find out.
She spent over an hour in the University library, reading up on Helmut Kleinhofâ€™s life. When she was finished and out in the sunlight again, she realized with a shock that had she been fully aware of his position, she would have chosen him for an academic mentor.
Kleinhofâ€™s intelligent, Teutonic face peered inquisitively from the pages of numerous books and journals she collected after checking with the reference desk. An established astrophysicist with a great track record of solid research, which included a Noble Prize for identifying a new comet, Kleinhofâ€™s later works had taken an odd turn for a well-known scientist. The focus of his research evolved around explaining the works of ancient astronomers in modern terms. His reasons for doing that were very clear. He was positive he could document the existence of comets in the records of Egyptian astronomers, not simply as a visual phenomenon, but as a predicted astrological event. â€˜This demonstratedâ€™, Kleinhof wrote, â€˜that ancient astronomers were capable of even more sophisticated science than history had given them credit for. Their calculations proved almost as accurate as present day astronomersâ€™ without the use of powerful telescopes. Moreover, if their research could be deemed valuable, then the earlier existence of such phenomenon such as comets and meteors could be documentedâ€™.
Since astronomy was an integral part of pharonic religion as well as a science, it was as well documented a discipline as medicine was. It stood to reason records must have been kept of the more common astronomical events such as solstices, planet names, and locations. Observatories would have been built in specific places throughout the country, which provided for maximum viewing. All this was, of course, purely theoretical, but his confidence in their viability was so strong that Dr. Kleinhof had forsaken his cluttered office in Stuttgart and traveled to the worldâ€™s most remote places, seeking the truth. He had become a modern day scientific pilgrim.
His theories were extremely revolutionary for a very conservative thinker, to the point that his esteemed colleagues thought he might either be heading for senility or a mental breakdown. One wrote he expected a visit from the worthy astronomer wearing a pointed hat and medieval robes. A great deal of journalistic headshaking and tongue-wagging ensued. Kleinhof had plainly gone around the bend.
According to Kleinhof, the great pyramid at Giza was, in fact, none other than an observatory, placed in its exact location in order to observe specific phenomenon. However, in typical Egyptian pragmatism every public building had to be multipurpose. It was also an immense analog calendar, which indicated by its shadow, the date and time of year. He believed that when the pyramidâ€™s shadow touched certain places around it, various celebrations occurred synonymous with the solstices. Since astronomer magi controlled the pharonic ascension and descension, the pyramid served its purpose as a tomb only until the pharaoh died. Once the king was neatly put away and the ceremonies over, the magi kept their secret exits and entrances to the observatory open, allowing science to be carried on uninterrupted by affairs of state.
Another theory Kleinhof had posited was that even the pharonic gods such as Horus, the hawk, and Anubis, the dog, were in fact, none other than constellations in anthropomorphic form. Nut the Sky goddess, as well as being the goddess of death, would be the personification of the Milky Way. For religious purposes, these constellations were anthropromorphized and worshiped as deities, their movements were nevertheless studied by the Egyptian astronomers. Kleinhof believed these ancient scientists kept well-documented records tracking the movements of astral bodies just as they had for everything other aspect of their known world.
On the astrophysical side of his research, Kleinhof had been considered one of the leading experts of the composition of cometâ€™s tails, studying the explosions that gave it the appearance of flickering as material passed through its tail. Linking this to the â€œflying gravel-bank theoryâ€ of comet composition, he pursued earlier theories that comets were no more than balls of meteorites in the sunâ€™s orbit.
Observing that meteoric showers increased with the passing of a comet, such as the Leonid showers in November, Kleinhof proposed that these meteor showers were the fallout from the cometâ€™s tail as Earth passed close to its orbit every 33 to 37 years, as Trevy had figured. Most striking of all was his theory that a second, â€œphantomâ€ comet moved in almost exactly the same as Templeâ€™s orbit but at different intervals.
Trevy sat back in her chair, then looked around to see if anyone had noticed her reaction. Could this be what Hassan was referring to, the similarities between hers and Kleinfhofâ€™s theories about Cerebus? Of course, he was suspicious of her, barely more than a kid, coming up with the same idea that had snagged the attention of a great scholar in the same field. But did he think her as so greedy for recognition sheâ€™d actually kill her famous rival? Women had done worse in the name of fame and fortune. Lucretia Borgia dropped poison in the drinks of everybody who stood in her way. Why shouldnâ€™t she be capable of hiring a hit man?
Did the Inspector truly believe it worth killing somebody to tell the world Cerebus was moving slowly into the Temple-Tuttleâ€™s orbit? Because of Templeâ€™s fluctuating intervals, the two would pass perilously close to each other in 2012, if not collide. A collision might even spell doom for Earth, since the comets would be at their closest point to Earth when their orbits crossed. The comet Cerebus originally appeared around the year 1000 A.D. However, Kleinhofâ€™s theory went a step farther than hers. The actual time between the passing of the comets might come even sooner since he believed Cerebus was much older than a thousand years as was Temple Tuttle. To prove his theories, his travels took him from South American jungles to the Nubian Desert where he hoped to find evidence of much earlier that would definitively silence his detractors. Unfortunately, there were many and he must have, at some point, become discouraged. So what was he doing thirty feet up on the scaffolding of an obscure stele at Sakkara? They might never know the answer.
Warming herself in the morning sun, Trevy sat outside in the courtyard, sipping tea. There was comfort in the laughter and chatter of the students around her. In her briefcase, she had photocopies of Kleinhofâ€™s maps and articles and the only book of his the stingy librarian would let her check out. Something else had alarmed her even more than Kleinhofâ€™s â€˜When Comets Collide Theory.â€™ When she had asked the reference librarian for Sabatiniâ€™s Accounts of Travels in Egypt, the woman checked her computer and then went into the enclosure where rare manuscripts were kept. She returned empty-handed. â€œI thought so, but I was just making sure. The only copy is on reserve. I canâ€™t let you have it.â€
â€œYes, of course. It was on reserve for me from the Cairo Museum Archives. Look on the computer, please. I watched the librarian type it in myself and it was to be here under my name.â€
The librarian was becoming slightly hostile under such insistence. â€œYou are, I believe, a graduate student, Miss Evans? Professors are able to take things off reserve that are reserved for graduate students, I believe.â€
â€œProfessors?â€ Trevy held on to her temper by the breadth of a nerve. â€œBut that rule applies only to textbooks. That is not a textbook, it is a special request for me.â€
An older, formidable-looking woman came out of the stacks and joined them. â€œIs something the matter, Miss?â€
â€œYes, something is very the matter with library policy that allows people to check out books especially ordered by someone else!â€
The woman regarded her over slipping spectacles. â€œWe do not make policies, Miss, we merely follow them. Perhaps you should take your complaint to the Dean of Library Science.â€
â€œI doubt very much that will get my book back.â€ She tried a different tack. â€œIt is very important that I have it. I need it for my thesis and the Cairo Museum archives have the only copy in print.â€
â€œWe have a rare books search-and-find service. Perhaps we could locate another one for you.â€ The woman didnâ€™t look as though she wanted to go out of the way to be helpful, especially for mere graduate students.
â€œThatâ€™s what I used to locate the copy I ordered,â€ Trevy said, straining the limits of her patience, â€œand that was the only one. Look, who checked the book out? Maybe I can go explain this to them. They certainly couldnâ€™t need it as much as I do.â€
â€œItâ€™s really not orthodox to reveal peopleâ€™s names,â€ the prissy one said. â€œWe canâ€™t do that.â€
â€œOh, for heavenâ€™s sake, thatâ€™s ridiculous. Iâ€™m part of the staff here, too. Although Iâ€™m certainly not being treated like one.â€
â€œReally? Do you have Staff I.D., Miss?â€ She glanced at the I.D. â€œPart-time,â€ she commented with an audible sniff, trading meaningful glances with her colleague. â€œI thought so. I usually recognize all the fulltime staff before part-time.â€
Finally, the more agreeable of the two picked up a clipboard and turned it in her direction. â€œThis is the list of reference books signed out by the staff. Find your book, thereâ€™s a signature opposite the title. You just didnâ€™t find out from us, of course,â€ she said with a wink.
â€œThanks.â€ One look at the prissy oneâ€™s face told her they would be fighting over it for decades later. She glanced down the list. The signature across from Sabitiniâ€™s book was Stephen Drakeâ€™s.
Furious, she went to find him. He wasnâ€™t in the office, his secretary said. â€œTomorrowâ€™s Friday. He always leaves early on Fridayâ€™s. You might try him at home, although I think he said he was going out of town.â€
â€œOut of town?â€
The suggestion was waved away. â€œWell, just some place â€˜way out in the desertâ€™.â€ The secretary frowned, pushing aside papers on her desk. â€œWadi el-something.â€
â€œEl Wadi Abou Serga?â€ The confirmation she dreaded to hear was instant and undeniably correct.
â€œThatâ€™s it!â€ The womanâ€™s face cleared. â€œAbsolutely! How did you know?â€
â€œOh, just a long shot, I guess.â€ She turned away. â€œYou donâ€™t know if he took a book with him, by chance. A large, rare book.â€
â€œA book?â€ The woman chuckled. â€œOh, he usually takes lots of books along with him. He reviews them for journals and research papers, you know. Which one were you looking for? I did go down to the library and get a few for him.â€ She adjusted her horn-rimmed glasses to glance at a list.
â€œâ€˜An Account of My Travels in Egyptâ€™ by Sabitini.â€ She held her breath slightly. But her worst fears were confirmed as the secretary nodded, studying her notes.
â€œItâ€™s here. Thatâ€™s one I had put on reserve for him. And another one, â€˜The History of Comets In Our Universe by Kleinhof.â€™ Of course, that wasnâ€™t on reserve.â€
She fought down her anger at the Old Boyâ€™s club. â€œYes, I had it on reserve, too.â€His secretary brushed off the suggestion of text hijacking. â€œI remember he said, â€˜Iâ€™m taking along a little light reading this weekend, Miss Johnson,â€™ thatâ€™s what he said when he left.â€ The secretary looked as if she were describing the antics of a naughty child. â€œHeâ€™s so funny, always kidding around like that.â€
â€œHeâ€™s such a joker.â€ It appeared Drake was even more of a pretender than she thought. â€œI donâ€™t suppose you noticed that both of those books were on reserve for someone else? Me, for instance.â€
â€œWas it for you, dear?â€ She rolled her eyes as if making excuses for a naughty child. â€œIâ€™m so sorry. He does have the right to do that. But, after all, heâ€™s the Department chair, you know. Itâ€™s his option to review material for classes and journals and such. Iâ€™m sure heâ€™ll bring it right back Monday.â€
Her first lucky break of the morning came when she returned to the library and found the friendly reference librarian was on duty at the desk. â€œNo, she was incorrect, Miss Evans. Dr. Drake doesnâ€™t have either of the books on reserve for today. Itâ€™s on for tomorrow. Friday.â€
â€I donâ€™t suppose I could take it home tonight and bring it in tomorrow. I did have it on reserve first, you know.â€
â€œI know. But the Department Chairs can override anyoneâ€™s reserve requests. The younger woman took pity on her. â€œOrdinarily, I donâ€™t let this copy out of the library,â€ she said, retrieving the books from the reserve shelf. â€œBut since youâ€™re faculty, part-time, but faculty, Iâ€™ll make an exception.â€
â€œI really appreciate it.â€ Trevy signed her name to the clipboard.
â€œBut have it back by tomorrow. Or Iâ€™ll catch it from you-know-who.â€ Sitting at a table in the school garden, she drank hot tea to warm herself while she leafed through the book, not even sure what to look for. What shouted out from the pages was one of Kleinhofâ€™s theories on comet orbits, strikingly similar to one she had been working on for several years as a possible thesis. It was the prior existence of a comet in the Southern Hemisphere, which had been described by modern astronomers as â€œnewâ€. Her theory and Kleinhofâ€™s were the same - that the comet had passed by in pre-Western history about the year 2000 B.C. It was due to pass again this year, 2000 on the same date, August 10. His death had stopped Kleinhof from proving his theory, but why? What harm would it do to know an astrophysical body was not new, but 4000 years older? Would it destroy someoneâ€™s rival work? Turn the world of astronomy on its head? Besides, from what she could figure out, Kleinhof had no proof that the ancients had either recorded the passage of the comet or would have been able to predict its return to the Southern Hemisphere? What was the big deal?
Not only because she had been a witness to his death, but because they might, in some other scenario, been colleagues, at least student and teacher, Trevy felt a certain responsibility to pay Dr. Kleinhof last respects. While the bodies of all foreign deceased were usually shipped out of the country in 24 hours, she might find out where Kleinhof had been sent and arrange for flowers. At least, she could make certain he left the country where he met such a tragic fate with some sort of recognition.
So similar was their line of theory, it was as if she had been chosen to carry on his work. Inspector Hassan had suggested the previous night there was a definite link between Kleinhofâ€™s theories and her own premise that major Egyptian monuments were located to reflect planetary movements and function, not only as temples and tombs, but as observatories. Until she had read about Kleinhofâ€™s work, her theories appeared so radical and lacking in concrete proof as to be products of a fertile imagination. Advisors told her to get real. A couple gently suggested she move to forensic archaeology.
â€œNever know what those old mummies will tell you,â€ he said, showing teeth that could have been a mummieâ€™s.
It was well known the Egyptian priesthood never did anything without scientific reason or religion that served as science. The placement of the solar boat, its longitude and latitude aligned with certain constellations and the sun, might be one more fact supporting her theory. Now, its excavation had brought her into Helmut Kleinhofâ€™s orbit as well.
Sitting there in the shady garden with doves cooing in the gnarled trees and students twittering around her, a wave of sadness swept over her. Trevy began to mourn Kleinhofâ€™s death though she had never even met him. Here was just the man who would have understood. He was a thinker of the highest order, higher than any of his colleagues because he felt free to explore rather than be chained by existing research. His theories had often been challenged and called unfounded, yet time had always been on his side.
One less substantiated theory Kleinhof had posited was that even Egyptian deities (gods such as Horus, the hawk, Bastet, the cat, Anubis, the dog.) were in fact, none other than constellations in anthropomorphic form. Nut, the Sky goddess was also the personification of the Milky Way. To appeal to the masses, and support the claim of pharaohs to be favored by the gods, these constellations were given anthropomorphic personae and worshiped as deities.
However, Kleinhof believed these divinities represented actual constellations in the Southern hemisphere and were the direct results of scientific study on the part of the Egyptian astronomers. He had no doubt that well-documented scientific observation must have existed which verified every aspect of these deified figures as actual constellations.
On the astrophysical side of his research, Kleinhof had been considered one of the leading experts of the composition of cometâ€™s tails and itâ€™s combustion giving it the appearance of flickering as material passed through its tail. Linking this to the â€œflying gravel-bank theoryâ€ of comet composition, he pursued earlier theories that comets were no more than balls of meteorites in the sunâ€™s orbit. Observing that meteoric showers increased with the passing of a comet, such as the Leonid meteor showers in November in the wake the comet Temple-Tuttle, Kleinhof proposed that these meteor showers were the fallout from the cometâ€™s tail as Earth passed close to its orbit. In pursuit of this theory, he had documented the link between comets and meteorite showers all the way to pre-historic cave drawings.
His studies had carried him all over the world, but particularly to Egypt and Iraq to the sites of great temples, such as the one at Saqqara. There he painstakingly gathered evidence from stele and temple walls to support his theories; which were considered interesting, if not terribly relevant, to the rest of the scientific world. His reputation for brilliant scholarship and undisputable research in astrophysics had earned him such a position of respect among his colleagues that few dared to bring up the question of how relevant such research might be in the days of the Hubble telescope. That was until a few weeks ago when he published a paper stating the possibility of a comet coming directly into the earthâ€™s orbit in five years. That had made his theories suddenly relevant to everyone on the planet. And might have cost him his life.
As she skimmed through the small stack of books by and about Kleinhof, one line jumped out from apparently endless lists of sites he had visited and recorded. Wadi Abou Serga.
In 1987, 1997, and 2001, he had visited Egypt looking for the site of a temple supposedly built near water in the Fifth Dynasty. The location of the temple was at Wadi Abou Serga, some 300 miles into the desert below the First Cataract. A true scientist, he had documented the fact that a river had once flowed through that area with satellite pictures identifying land formations associated with water.
Unable to locate the temple but certain he could prove his theories, he had nonetheless made note of the tiny oasis still existing there, which must have surely been large enough to support a temple lake of the kind depicted in royal tombs of that period. In his brief articles on this topic, Kleinhof had stated that the presence of water would have attracted a settlement of some size even in that remote location, just as Hassan had suggested the previous night.
To her disappointment, Gabriel Sabitiniâ€™s account of discovering a small tomb in the area was never mentioned. In spite of his thorough scholarship, he had apparently missed a valuable clue - one Stephan Drake might have already picked up on. But how? At the very least, she could devote some effort at verifying his pioneering theories. Considering Inspector Hassanâ€™s warning that she might be the killerâ€™s next victim, she would be at risk undertaking such a task, but after all, she was not only a witness to his death, but a student embracing many of his ideas. Although it meant making herself a prime target for someone hoping to put an end to Kleinhofâ€™s work, she nevertheless couldnâ€™t allow his research to be stopped by an assassinâ€™s bullet.
But was a theory really worth ending up the same way? The question was still in limbo in her mind, when Stephen Drake stopped at her table. She quickly slipped the book under a pile of other textbooks.
. â€œDonâ€™t you ever give up?â€ It was an artfully contrived a statement; his pale blue shirt matching his eyes.
â€œNo, is there a reason why I should?â€
The challenge in her voice apparently caused him to soften his approach. â€œHey, Trevy, you really should take the day off, you know. This thing will hit you all of a sudden. Youâ€™ve never heard of Delayed Stress Reaction Syndrome?â€
â€œActually, whoever made that up lied. Thereâ€™s nothing delayed about it. Iâ€™m stressed to the max, believe me. But Iâ€™d rather be here at work, you know? Takes my mind off things.â€ She didnâ€™t mention the cut brake cable. He would have definitely offered to drive her back to Maadi. She had thought about hitching a ride, but not with him.
Drakesâ€™ eyes fell on the pile of books. â€œI know how it goes. Work is sometimes the best therapy. There I go, talking like a true workaholic.â€ Cool as a glass of mint tea, and as artificially sweet, his resigned expression begged her to save him from himself. â€œHave dinner with me tonight, Trevy. Iâ€™ll make sure the wine is as good as it gets in Cairo - which ainâ€™t saying much.â€ He laughed at his own joke.
â€œThanks, but I just need to relax. Even conversation is a strain at this point. Some other time, maybe.â€ She longed to blurt out she preferred men whose idea of fashion was T-shirts from Mexican tourist bars, but he was, after all, on her thesis committee. Diplomacy at any price. It didnâ€™t pay to get snarkey with advisors, even if they were hitting on you.
â€œWhenever youâ€™re ready, let me know. You have my number.â€
She had to stop herself from saying she not only had his number, but all of his game plans as well. It was also on the tip of her tongue to ask Dr. Drake why he had taken a sudden interest in Helmut Kleinhofâ€™s theories. Had he planned to pursue them as well? As a professor and Ph.D., he could command immediate recognition for such a discovery as Kleinhof was trying to make, something she would never get as a graduate student. She might have helped him along nicely by doing all the legwork for him, including practically leading him by the hand to the source â€“ good old Guido Sabitini himself.
Her only chance to beat him to the punch was to make it to Wadi Abou Serga before Drake did. That was a problem since Cecily was still in the hospital and she had the only transportation that would make it out to that remote site. If she wanted to borrow one of the Universityâ€™s SUVs, she would have to go through her department chair for approval. And that was Stephan Drake, who was on his way there himself.
It had taken her two precious months to set up the trip back to the Wadi Abou and she wasn't about to let Inspector Hassan's warning interfere with it. Yes, she had thought about telling the Inspector Captain Hassan she was planning to leave, but in the next second, decided against it. The last thing she wanted was to be alone with Mohamed Ibrahim and the other five prophets in thousands of square miles of desert.
A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY
Operating on the assumption that few foreigners wanted their remains to be wrapped in cloth and buried in Egyptian sand, according to Koranic law, her first call was to the airlines to find out when Kleinhofâ€™s body was being returned to Germany. But Lufthansa, the German airline, normally a bastion of efficiency amid Cairoâ€™s waffling bureaucracy, had never heard of Kleinhof, nor had they carried any bodies out of the country in the past month. The answer was the same from all the other major airlines flying in and out of Cairo. No body. No Kleinfhof.
Her curiosity began functioning now at full throttle. Going into the cubbyhole office she shared with two other messy graduate students, she called the City Coroner's office and inquired in French about Dr. Kleinhof's preparations to be mailed home via refrigerated carton. They were mystified. No bodies for two days. They hoped they hadn't made a mistake and mailed him out as some other frozen goods.
Then she called the German Consulate. They had no idea Helmut Kleinhof was dead. The Egyptian secretary asked politely, â€œWas he with the diplomatic corp?â€
She put down the phone, stunned. The man's body had vanished. Kleinhof might as well be buried in one of the thousands of tombs under the Sahara sand. He'd be that hard to find now.
Bemused by yet another new mystery, she left the quiet halls of the university and stepped out into the cacophony of Cairo traffic. True to his word, Mohamed had parked her repaired car across the street from the university, and her devoted secret policeman was leaning against it, reading a newspaper. Periodically, he swatted at the street urchins who treated to smear it with dung if he didnâ€™t hand out baksheesh.
When he saw her, he yoo-hooed, and beckoned; glowing with pride. â€œCar very healthy again, asitti! Got the new brake! Come see!â€
As she waved back and began to cross the narrow street, a lorry appeared a few hundred yards down the street. Thinking the lorry driver would slow to let her cross, she kept going towards the opposite side. Instead, its powerful engine revved up and the vehicle launched directly towards her. Caught in the middle, she jumped back to get out of the way, but the truck swerved sharply towards her, rocking on its wheels. Afraid of being pinned against a parked car, Trevy sprinted back towards the curb again, but the huge truck followed, as if lured by a magnet. It passed her in a roar of foul exhaust, nearly colliding with a car coming the other way, and rode up on the curb, sending a flock of advancing beggars in all directions.
She was watching it retreat when something hit her full force from behind and sent her sprawling on the filthy sidewalk. Her first thought was that she had been mugged until Mohamed Ibrahim climbed to his feet, pointing to the tear in the knee of his purple trousers. "Allah! I have ruined my beautiful suit." He was too distraught to notice Trevy trying to pull her short skirt down over her skinned knees as she struggled to stand up. She was so angry, she felt like hitting him with one of her textbooks.
"What did you do that for? I got out of the way and then you knock me down?â€
Mohamed Ibrahim seemed suddenly concerned for her safety. "Forgive me, Miss Evan for falling flat upon you. I am habitually at your service." He wasnâ€™t the least concerned that he had knocked her to the ground unnecessarily. Only that, in doing so, he had fallen on top of her. "I tell you I am not without practical use. But, dear Allah, my suit pants is ruined!"
She started off across the street again, but he called her back, squinting myopically at something behind him on the university wall. Then, hobbling on painful feet, he walked over to the wall and touched it with delicate fingers.
With a sigh, she joined him. "What is it? What are you looking at?"
"Bulleted hole." He lifted his battered hat with a mournful smile. "Most unfortunately, mademoiselle, someone has just tried to shoot you."
"Well, did you get a description of the car?" She squinted at him in the morning sunlight. "Did you get the license plate?â€
"Of course, Miss. I have description.â€ He closed his eyes and raised a finger as if having a revelation. â€œI see him in the mind of the eye. Large black vehicle with camel dung driver, blow out big cloud of smoke."
"That's all you got? A large black vehicle? No make and year. License plates? Oh, I can see its going to be a joy to work with you, Mohamed Ibrihim. But thank you for your concern." She reached in her purse and came up with a ten pound note. "Here, get your suit fixed. And if you tell Inspector Hassan about this, make sure to tell him you saved my life. Who knows? You might even become an Inspector yourself."
Mohamed took the money and touched it to his brow. "At your service, Miss Evan. You are as kind as you are beautiful and you will make a somebody a nice husband some day." As she went back to her car, she made up her mind to lose Mohamed as fast as possible in the insane Cairo traffic.
The medans of the city were churning with noon traffic as she started over to the city hospital, El Masr. Weaving the little Fiat expertly through a tangle of donkey carts, shiny European cars, and overloaded buses, she rehearsed various ways to approach her inquiry in Arabic. â€œDo you have a dead man in the hospital named Kleinhof? Has anyone brought in a man called Kleinhof? Have you brought in any dead foreigners in the last twenty-four hours?â€
The answer to all those polished questions was a blank stare from the Admissions Clerk. "I speak English, Miss, and we have no one here named Kleinhof. In fact, no dead or even live foreigners. Is this a police matter?"
Trevy nodded."I'm afraid Mr. Kleinhof was killed in an accident yesterday. I wanted to give the family my sympathy."
The clerk shrugged. "Then you might check with the Co-owner if they are holding the body for autopsy. But usually, since the law says people must be buried in forty-eight hours, they will airfreight the body immediately to its native country. Was he a close friend of yours?"
She fielded the question as sincerely as flatly lying would permit. "Actually...he's ...a distant relative. My uncle's cousin, to be exact. Very distant relative."
It worked. Family affiliation, regardless of distance, was never to be ignored. The clerk made a clicking noise with his tongue, a sign of commiseration."What a tragic business! Accept my deepest condolences, in that case.â€ The coronerâ€™s clerk came around the counter and extended his hand with a slight bow. â€œLet me check with the Transportation personnel to see if anyone by the name of Kleinhof has been transported anywhere. They will have a record of all patients brought in and those leaving, either dead or alive, if you will pardon the term.â€
As she waited, several carts rolled by pushed by attendants who lined them up alongside the counter. Although sheets covered the bodies, here and there they slipped off to reveal a toe with a nametag tied to it. The attendants all lit cigarettes against the prevailing odor of death, and began to chat. Since she was first at the counter, she felt prevailed upon for an explanation of why they were waiting, but apparently, the attendants were glad to rest. They joked and laughed, leaning on the gurneys holding their dead charges.
Presently, the helpful clerk returned with a computer printout. â€œHere is the list for two days from the Transportation Office. No dead persons exported. See, check it yourself.â€
While he got busy with the charts from the waiting gurneys, Trevy glanced over the list and marveled at the speed in which the deceased were dispatched out of El Masr Hospital. Since Moslem custom required the dead to be buried within 24 hours, there was little delay in dealing with burial plans. People who had died in hospital one day were gone the next. Small wonder the road to the City of the Dead was so crowded with mourners and picnickers. As she skimmed over the list of deceased, it struck her how different death was in the Middle East than in western countries. Murder in Egypt was relatively rare and the killers were caught, going to prison was even more rare. The reason was simple. In spite of its lumbering bureaucracy and laws, Egyptians still adhered to the old eye-for-an-eye rule. Even if the murderer were in police custody, the family of the victim would get to him and kill him. Or, in the case of the more well-to-do criminal, they would demand payment for the death of their kinsman or kinswoman. When everyone was satisfied with the arrangement, the killer would go free, always looking over his shoulder, however. If Kleinhof had been murdered back in Stuttgart, his body wouldnâ€™t have been boxed up to ship out a few hours later. He would have been kept in cold storage until an investigative team made their report. The embassies of the two countries involved would have e-mailed and messaged ad infinitum. The family of the deceased, if one existed, would have the condolences of the Egyptian ambassador and just about everyone else. Then, poor Kleinhof, decidedly worse for wear, would have gone to his rest and Interpol would take it from there. By that time, the killer could be back in Sao Pao or wherever, living high of his hit money.
Trevyâ€™s attention was snagged by an entry on the list. She waited patiently until the clerk had dispatched the last corpse, discreetly tucking a numbered tag under the body sheet. When she finally got his attention, she pointed to an entry on the log.
â€œIt says â€˜The Cairo Museumâ€™ here. Is that a mistake?â€
The clerk looked offended by the suggestion. â€œMistake, Miss? Excuse me, but we rarely make mistakes here. No, indeed! It is probably a shipment of pathological specimens to their Pathology Department. You see, they use our labs for the analysis of the ancient tissues. They send a vehicle to convey the specimens here.â€ He blinked officiously, tired of irrelevant questions. â€œCan I be of any further assistance to you, Miss?â€
A horrible truth began to dawn on her. â€œYouâ€™ve been more than helpful, sir. Would you accept a small gratuity and let me know if anything comes through here regarding Mr. Kleinhof. You can understand how worried we are.â€ She gave him one of her few pound notes which he accepted graciously, tucking the bill in his pocket.
The clerk brightened considerably. â€œWith the greatest of pleasure, Miss Kleinhof. I hope you find your dear fatherâ€™sâ€¦ no, uncleâ€™s cousinâ€™s immortal remains before sun sets upon his soul.â€ With that blessing, the clerk bustled away, followed by a queue of anxious dragomen, all demanding where their particular corpse was supposed to go. She wondered how many people had ended up in someone elseâ€™s mausoleum.
The Cairo Museum had been her second home beside the American University since she arrived in Egypt. Its cool corridors welcomed on long Sunday afternoons and she had come to know most of the main halls fairly well. The building that housed the museum was so vast, it would have taken years, perhaps a lifetime, to know every nook and anti-room. She had been in rooms that seemed as ancient as some of the tombs they held.
At the Information Desk, a smiling young woman with eye makeup resembling Nefertitiâ€™s directed her to Shipping, nearly a half-mileâ€™s walk from the entrance.
When she arrived at Shipping, however, the clerk told her that the large crate of specimens picked up at El Masr the previous day had been sent to Pathology in the basement.
The Pathology Department was tucked away down a network of corridors that would challenge a rat. When she entered the office, a clerk who qualified as one of the antiquities looked up at her over pince-nez spectacles. â€œAre you lost, Miss?â€ she asked in French.
â€œOn the contrary, Madame, I have found you.â€
Pince-Nez broke into a welcoming smile. â€œHow pleasant to hear a young voice speaking such good French!â€ The woman put down her pen with fingers made crooked with years of infinite record-keeping. â€œBut you are American, of course. How can I help you, my dear?â€
Using her graduate student status, Trevy related a story of tissue samples sent to El Masr labs and mistakenly shipped to the museum. She wondered if they had checked their recent shipments for errors. â€œYour Transportation Department told me your truck had picked up a large crate yesterday evening. I was hoping that might be our lost tissue samples.â€
â€œHuman tissue samples, my dear?â€ Pince-Nez consulted a log book on her desk although the computer screen sat directly in front of her.
â€œNo, mummified ape. We were trying to date them.â€
â€œAh, yes, here it is. Large crate from El Masr Shipping, 9 pm last night. Let us go see if your missing monkeys are within. Come along with me, Miss. We keep these in the refrigerated storage.â€
She followed the secretary through a dimpled glass door marked Defense dâ€™Entrez and down an odorous corridor. As an archaeology student, she was fairly accustomed to the mixture of formaldehyde and ancient decay. But her experience had been limited to air-conditioned, well-ventilated labs. These halls appeared to have absorbed centuries of smells that had become part of the yellowed plaster itself.
The fetid odor struck like a physical force and she involuntarily reached up to hold her nose. Pince-Nez must have been so accustomed to her surroundings over the years, the effect was lost on her or had pickled her sense of smell. She was chattering on about miscommunications and a new shipping inspector who was an idiot and didnâ€™t do his job, but was cousin to someone in a position of authority so there was nothing they could do about it. So, if there was a mistake, it was his fault and he ought to be sacked, but that wasnâ€™t going to happen.
She felt the necessity to add something to the conversation. â€œYou certainly speak English well.â€
Through pinched nostrils, the secretaryâ€™s British accent acquired a nasal twang. â€œThatâ€™s because I am British, dear.â€ She turned and caught Trevy holding her nose against the penetrating odor. â€œOh, my dear, I should have warned you about the odor, Miss Evans. Iâ€™ve gotten so used to it after 30 years, I donâ€™t even notice.â€
The clerk jangled a set of multiple keys, before finding the one to another door at the end of two consecutive corridors. â€œIâ€™m British, by birth. I married an Egyptian who subsequently took another wife, which he is allowed to do. Unfortunately, he took my children as well.â€
There was no regret in her voice, only resignation as if she were reciting a story told many times.. â€œA kind friend found me a job here in the museum and I stayed on to be close to them.â€ It was as if she were informing a visitor of the main headings in the card catalogue system. â€œAnd here we are. Cold storage locker. Itâ€™s a little chilly but delightful on a summerâ€™s day. Sometimes, I eat my lunch in here. Donâ€™t shut the door after you or the light will go off and the Freon will turn on. Most uncomfortable, I assure you.â€
They stepped into a large, air-conditioned room filled with boxes and crates stacked one upon the other. If she had expected to find Kleinhofâ€™s body here, it would take a week to go through everything.
As it turned out, Pince-Nez was a master of efficiency, trained in the British school of no fact too trivial to be left unrecorded. She puttered around until she came to a large crate in one corner of the room. â€œAh, here we are, I think.â€ She checked the number stamped in red on the side with her log book. â€œJust so! Here is the one from El Masr Hospital. We sent out the mummy of a woman found in a tomb in Thebes to find out what she died from. Iâ€™m sure they are simply returning it. There is no one about to open it for us since they all take their tea about this time, but Iâ€™ll get something to open it with. At least, you will be reassured it is not your missing monkey samples.â€
Pince-Nez found several crowbars lying in the corner. Handing one to Trevy, she said, â€œYou get one end and Iâ€™ll get the other.â€ The wooden lid hadnâ€™t been nailed down very tightly and popped up after a few attempts to pry it loose. Inside, was a wooden box that appeared to Trevy like a pauperâ€™s coffin. â€œVoila, the mysterious lady!â€ Pince-Nez said. â€œAs a student of archaeology, perhaps youâ€™d like to see her. Sheâ€™s very well preserved, actually. Not much more than your age.â€
It wasnâ€™t her place to warn Pince-Nez about tampering with artifacts, which could deteriorate to dust in seconds in open air. â€œIâ€™d love to take a look, if itâ€™s not too much trouble. It wonâ€™t do any damage, will it?â€
Pince-Nez was nonchalant about the turns of fortune, probably from experience. â€œNone that time and misfortune hasnâ€™t done already. This mummy was discovered by a farmer plowing in the Delta. She was lying in a patch of land he was about to irrigate. Such a fate for a princess; stripped of all her beautiful clothes and jewels in which she was to spend life after death. Unfortunately, she spent life after death planted under ox manure and God knows what else. Come on, letâ€™s take a look, shall we?â€
Pince-Nez slipped the end of her crowbar under one side of the lid and Trevy pried her end under the opposite side. â€œOne, two, three, up!â€
The lid flew up and revealed the body within. It was not the young woman from Thebes but Dr. Helmut Kleinhof staring up at them, a bullet hole in his forehead.
Pince-Nez let out an earsplitting shriek and threw up her hands. The crowbar clattered off somewhere among the boxes as she grabbed hold Trevy and began to shake her roughly.
â€œThatâ€™s not our mummy, itâ€™s a man! And heâ€™s been shot! Oh, dear God, this is horrible!â€ As if to underscore that impression, the locker door closed with a firm slam, automatically cutting off the overhead light. They were left in complete darkness with the body of Dr. Kleinhof. Pince-Nez gripped her even harder. â€œWhat on earth? The door just shut by itself!â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so.â€ Trevy gently tried to disengage herself from the secretaryâ€™s grip. â€œI think someone just locked us in here.â€
â€œImpossible,â€ replied Pince-Nez with complete conviction. â€œThereâ€™s nobody about, I told you.â€
Promising herself not to panic, Trevy felt her way along the rows of crates to the direction of the door. Finally, she arrived there and felt along the steel door itself. It was pressure-sealed that opened only from the outside. â€œIs there a way to open this from inside? There has to be some kind of alarm for emergencies.â€
â€œThere is a button to the right of the door on a panel. Do you feel it? Push the button and the lock will release.â€
â€œI did.â€ Trevy found the button and pressed hard. â€œNothing happened.â€ She tried to keep her voice steady, in spite of the total darkness and the fact that she was locked in a refrigerator with a fresh corpse.
Pince-Nez could be heard rustling among the crates and muttering curses alternately in French and English. â€œMiserable wretches! I told them to fix it. Nevertheless, a red light should flash outside the door until it is opened and someone resets the alarm. The technicians should be back from tea soon and theyâ€™ll see it flashing.â€
There was a sound something like the compressor on an air conditioner turning on and the temperature in the room seemed to drop from chilly to freezing in a matter of seconds. â€œGood gawd! The freon mist has come on,â€ Pince-Nez said, somewhere in the dark. â€œIt keeps the average temperature at 35 degrees. Get into a space between the crates to conserve body heat. I myself will find a spot somewhere across the room from that man in the coffin.â€
Coming from Iowa, Trevy found the near freezing temperature easier to bear than Pince-Nez whose teeth could be heard chattering above the whir of the refrigeration unit. She huddled down between two crates and made her body space as small as possible to conserve body heat. â€œI really didnâ€™t get your name. It seems a bit strange to introduce myself in the dark, but my name is Trevy Evans.â€ She hoped casual conversation would keep Pince-Nezâ€™ mind off impending hypothermia.
â€œQuite so,â€ across the room, with true British stiff upper lip tradition, the secretary replied as if they were at the Queenâ€™s Garden Party. â€œPenelope Mousawi, here. So delighted to make your acquaintance, Trevy. Is your name of Welsh origin, by the by? Sounds very Celtic.â€
â€œIâ€™m really not sure. My mother was reading lots of novels when she was expecting me. I think there was a character in one with that name. Thereâ€™s not much else to do out on an Iowa farm but read. Thatâ€™s how I first heard of Egypt. In a book my parents had in the living room. On snowy nights, Iâ€™d get it out and look at the pictures of pyramids and the desert. I never dreamed Iâ€™d be here.â€
â€œEspecially locked in a dark room at near freezing!â€
They shared a laugh, and became quiet again. â€œDo you ever see them ? Your children , I mean.â€
â€œActually, much more than I used to, oddly enough.â€ There was a pause in the dark, remembering old pain. â€œAt first, he wanted to cut off all contact with them so they would adjust to not having their mother nearby. A nanny would walk them round the gardens at a certain hour and I would follow at a distance, hoping for a glimpse of them. I thought I would go mad. My heart broke into so many pieces I thought I would never assemble them all again. But time heals, and as the years passed, he became more lenient, allowing them to visit me occasionally. Those days lit up my life and I lived for them. Then he sent them away to school in Switzerland and the few hours I could spend with them were mainly at the airport, saying goodbye. Never hello. Christmas, birthdays, I missed them all.â€
* * *