waters. It was swaying and swinging loosely as the current snatched at
it, and incredulously he realized that there were at least two men
on the flimsy structure, clinging desperately to the ladderway of
lurching, clattering poles. Both of them were trying to claw their way
up it to the top of the cliff.
In that fraction of a second Nicholas saw a flash of steel’rimmed
spectacles under a maroon beret, and realized that the man nearest the
top of the cliff was Tuma Nogo.
Then Nogo succeeded in reaching the top of the scaffolding and
disappeared over the top of the cliff. That one glance was all Nicholas
had time for before his log was plunged into the water-chute, gathering
speed until it was tearing downwards at a steeply canted angle. The
point dug in as it hit the surface of the pool at the bottom, and the
log almost pole-vaulted end over end, but Nicholas clung on to his
handholds, and gradually it righted itself.
For a few moments the log was stalled in the vortex below the falls, but
almost at once, the current grabbed it again and it gathered speed,
bearing away down the length of Taita’s pool as ponderously as a wooden
Nicholas had a second of respite in which to look around the basin of
Taita’s pool. He saw at once that the entrance tunnel to the tomb was
entirely submerged and, judging by the water level up the cliff wall, it
was already fifty feet or more beneath the surface. He felt a leap of
triumph. The tomb was once more protected from the depredations of any
Then he looked up the battered remnants of the bamboo scaffolding skewed
down the cliff, torn half away from the ancient niches in the rock, -and
he saw the other man still clinging to the wreckage. He was twenty feet
above the water level, and seemed frozen there like a cat in the high
branches of a windswept tree.
At that moment Nicholas realized that his log was swinging in the grip
of the river, curling in towards the dangling scaffold. He was about to
try to steer it clear, when the man on the framework high above him
turned his head and looked down at him. Nicholas saw that he was a white
man, his face a pale blob in the gloom of the canyon, and a moment later
he recognized him with a stab of hatred through the chest.
“Helm!the exclaimed.”Jake Helm.”
He had an image of Tamre, the epileptic boy, crushed beneath the
rockfalls and of Tessay’s burned and battered face. His outrage and
hatred surged. Instead of steering the log away from the scaffold, he
reversed his thrust and swung in towards the cliff. There was a
breathless interval when Nicholas thought he might miss, but at the last
moment the leading end of the log swung sharply and the point of it
crashed into the trailing end of the bamboo, hooking-on to it.
The log’s weight and momentum were irresistible. The bamboo poles
crackled and snapped like dry kindling, and then the whole rickety
structure tore loose from the wall and came crashing down over the log.
Helm swung out overhead, then released his grip and dropped feet first
into the water close alongside the log. He went deep below the surface.
While he was under, Nicholas pulled himself up to sit astride the log
and grabbed a length of bamboo pole that had broken off the scaffolding
and was floating alongside.his perch.
The log was trapped in a back eddy of the swollen river, and now it
began to spin slowly in the slack water outside the main current.
Nicholas was still riding high on the log. He hefted the bamboo,
swinging it back and forth like a baseball bat, to get the feel of it.
Then he cocked it over his shoulder and waited for Helm to show himself.
A second later the Texan’s head broke out, streaming water. His eyes
were screwed closed, and he let out a gasp Of water and air and tried to
suck in a breath. Nicholas aimed the pole at his head and swung with all
his strength, but just at that moment Helm opened his eyes and saw the
He was as quick as a water snake, rolling his head under the swinging
club so that it merely touched the side of his cropped blond head and
then glanced away. Nicholas was thrown off balance by his own swing, and
before he could recover Helm had drawn a quick breath and ducked below
the surface again.
Nicholas poised the club, ready to strike a second time, peering down
into the murky water, muttering angrily at himself for having missed the
first blow while he still had the advantage of surprise. He had no
illusions about what he was in for, now that Helm had been warned.
The seconds drew out with no sign of his adversary reappearing, and
Nicholas looked behind him anxiously, trying to anticipate where he
would come up again. For a long minute nothing happened. He lowered the
club nervously, and changed his grip so as to be ready to stab in any
direction with the sharp broken tip.
Suddenly his left ankle was seized in a crushing grip below the water
and, before he could grab a handhold to resist, Nicholas was jerked from
his seat on the log and went over backwards into the river. As he
plunged beneath the water he felt Helm’s fingers clawing at his face. He
grabbed one of the fingers and wrenched it back, feeling it snap in his
grasp as he forced it back towards its own wrist.
But Helm was galvanized by the agony of the dislocated joint, and one of
his long muscular arms whipped around Nicholas’s neck like the tentacles
of an octopus.
The two of them came to the surface for a moment, both of them drew one
quick, harsh breath, then Helm forced Nicholas’s head backwards and
water flooded into his open mouth. The lock on his neck tightened, and
he felt the tension on his vertebrae. It was a killer grip. If Helm had
only had a solid purchase he could have exerted the last ounce of
pressure which would have snapped his spine. But Nicholas kept rolling
back in the direction of the thrust, giving with it, and preventing Helm
from bringing all his strength to bear. As he went over he saw Helm’s
face in front of his, magnified and distorted through the tainted grey
water. He looked monstrous and evil.
As Helm rolled over the top of him Nicholas locked both hands around his
waist to hold him firmly, then brought up his right knee between Helm’s
legs, hard into his crotch, and felt the bone of his kneecap make
The bunch of genitals was full and rubbery; Helm contorted and his lock
on Nicholas’s neck eased. Nicholas used the slack to reach down and grab
a handful of Helm’s damaged testicles and twist them savagely. He saw
the man’s face inches in front of his own twist into a rictus of pain
and Helm pulled away from him, releasing his lock on Nicholas’s throat
and reaching down to grab his wrist with both hands.
Again they came to the surface close alongside the floating log, and
Nicholas realized that the current had taken hold of them again and was
carrying them away through the outlet of Taita’s pool into the full
stream of the river. Nicholas released his grip on Helm’s balls and with
his other hand aimed a punch at his face, but they were too close to
each other and the blow lacked power. It glanced off Helm’s cheek, and
Nicholas tried to lock his extended arm around his neck, going for a
headlock himself Helm hunched his head down on his shoulders slipping
under the hold. Then suddenly he reached for-ward fast as a striking
adder and sank his teeth into Nicholas’s chin.
The surprise was complete, and the pain was excruciating as his teeth
locked into the flesh. Nicholas shouted and clawed at Helm’s face, going
for his eyes, trying to drive his fingernails through the lids. But Helm
squeezed his eyes tight closed and his teeth cut in ever deeper, so that
Nicholas’s blood welled up and oozed from the corners of Helm’s mouth.
The log was still floating beside them, inches from the back of Helm’s
head. Nicholas seized his ears, one in each hand, and twisted him around
in the water. He could see over the top of Helm’s head, while Helm’s
vision was blocked. There was a nub of raw wood sticking out of the tree
trunk where an axe had hacked away a, ride branch.
The cut was at an angle, leaving a sharp spike. Through tears of agony
Nicholas lined up the spike with the back of Helm’s head. He could feel
Helm’s teeth almost meeting in the flesh of his face. They had cut
through the lower lip so that blood was starting to fill Nicholas’s
mouth. Helm was worrying him like a pit’bull in the arena, wrenching his
head from side to side. Soon he would come away with a bloody mouthful
of Nicholas’s flesh.
With all the strength of pain and desperation, Nicholas hurled himself
forward, and, using his upper body and his grip on the sides of Helm’s
head, drove him on to the sharp wooden spike. The point found the joint
between the vertebrae of the spine and the base of Helm’s skull, going
in like a nail and partially severing the spinal cord.
Helm’s jaws sprang open as he went into spasm. Nicholas pulled away from
him with a flap of loose flesh hanging from his chin, and blood
streaming and spurting from the deep ragged wound.
Helm was impaled upon the spike, like a carcass on a butcher’s hook. His
limbs twitched and the muscles of his face convulsed, his eyelids
shivered and jumped like those of an epileptic, and his eyeballs rolled
back into his skull so that only the whites showed, flashing grotesquely
in the gloom of the chasm.
Nicholas pulled himself up on to the tog beside the Texan’s body, and
hung there panting and bleeding in gouts down his chin on to his chest.
Slowly the log revolved un er the eccentric weight distribution, and
Helm began to slide off the spike. His skin tore with a sound like silk
parting, and the vertebrae of his spine grated on wood.
Then the corpse, at last quiescent, flopped face down into the water and
began to sink.
Nicholas would not let him go so easily. “Let’s make sure of you, dear
boy,” he grated through his swollen, bleeding mouth. He spat out a
mouthful of blood and saliva as he stretched out and grabbed the back of
Helm’s collar, holding him face down in the water under the log. They
icked up speed rapidly down the last stretch of the canyon, but
Nicholas held on doggedly, drowning any last spark of life from Helm’s
carcass, until at last it was torn. from his grip by the current and he
watched it sink away into the grey, roiling waters.
“I’ll give your love to Tessay,” Nicholas called after him as he
disappeared. Then he gave all his concentration to balancing the log and
staying aboard for the ride through the tumbling, racing current. At
last he was spewed out -AL
through the pink rock portals into the bottom reach of the DandeTa
river. As he was swept beneath the rope suspension bridge he slid off
the log and struck out for the western bank, very much aware of the
terrible drop into the Nile that lay half a mile downstream.
Sitting on the bank, he tore a strip from the tail of his shirt. Then he
bound up his wounded chin as best he could, strapping it around the back
of his head. The blood soaked through the thin wet cotton, but he
knotted it tighter and it began to staunch the flow.
He stood up unsteadily and pushed his way through the strip of thick
river in bush which bounded the river, until at last he struck the trail
that led down to the monastery and hobbled down it on his bare feet. He
only stopped once, and that was when he heard the sound of the
helicopter taking off from the top of the cliff above the chasm far
He looked back. “Sounds as though Tuma Nogo made it out of there, more’s
the pity. I wonder what happened to von Schiller and the Egyptian,” he
muttered grimly, fingering his injured face. “At least none of them are
going to get into the tomb, not unless they dam the river again.”
Suddenly a thought occurred to him.
“My God, what if von Schiller was already in there when the river hit!”
He began to chuckle, and then shook his head. “Too much to hope for.
justice is never that neat.” He shook his head again, but the movement
started his wound aching brutally. He clutched his bandaged jaw with one
hand and started down the trail again, breaking into a trot as he
reached the paved causeway that led down to the monastery.
ahoot Guddabi ran full into von Schiller around a corner of the maze,
and in a peculiar way the old man’s presence, even thoug he was of no
conceivable value in this crisis, steadied him and kept at bay the panic
that threatened at any moment to boil over and overwhelm him. Without
Hansith the maze was a weird and lonely place. Any human company was a
blessing. For a moment the two of them clung together like children lost
in the forest.
Von Schiller still carried part of the treasure that they had been
examining when Hansith had panicked and run.
He had Pharaoh’s golden crook in one hand and the ceremonial flail in
“Where is the monk?” he screamed at Guddabi. “Why did you run off and
leave me? We have to find the way out of these tunnels, you idiot. Don’t
you realize the danger?”
“How do you expect me to know the way-‘ Nahoot began furiously, and then
broke off as he noticed the chalk notations on the wall behind von
Schiller’s shoulder, and for the first time realized their significance.
“That’s it!’ he exclaimed with relief. “Harper or the Al Simma woman
have marked it out for us. Come on!” He started down the tunnel,
following the signposting. However, by the time they came out on the
central staircase almost an hour had passed since Hansith had left them.
As they hurried down the staircase into the long gallery the sound of
the river rose to a pervading hiss, like the breathing of a sleeping
dragon, Nahoot broke into a run and von Schiller staggered along behind
him, his aged legs weakening with fear.
“Wait!” he shouted after Nahoot, who ignored his plea and ducked out
through the opening in the plaster-sealed doorway. On the landing the
generator was still running smoothly, and Nahoot did not even glance at
it as he hurried down the inclined shaft in the bright dazzle of the
light bulbs along the roof.
He turned the corner still at a run, and stopped dead 41, as he realized
that the tunnel below him was flooded, right back up to the level of the
ancient high-water mark on the masonry blocks of the walls. There was no
sign of the sinkhole or the pontoon bridge. They were submerged under
fifty feet or more of water.
The Dandera river, guardian of the tomb down all the ages, had resumed
its duty. Dark and implacable, it sealed the entrance to the tomb as it
had done these four thousand years past.
“Allah!” whispered ahoot. “Allah have mercy on us.” Von Schiller came
around the corner of the tunnel and stopped beside Nahoot. The two of
them stared in horror at the flooded shaft. Then slowly von Schiller
sagged against the side wall.
“We are trapped,” he whispered, and at those words Nahoot whimpered
softly and sank to his knees. He began to pray in a high, nasal
sing-song. The sound infuriated on Schiller.
“That will not help us. Stop it!” He swung the golden flail in his right
hand across Nahoot’s bowed back. Nahoot cried out at the pain and
crawled away from von Schiller.
“We must find a way out of here.” Von Schiller’s voice steadied. He was
accustomed to command, and now he took charge.
“There must be another way out of here,” he decided.
(We will search. If there is an opening to the outside then we should
feel a draught of air.” His voice became firmer and more confident.
“Yes! That’s what we will do. Switch off that fan, and we will try to
detect any movement of air.”
Nahoot responded eagerly to his tone and authority, and hurried back to
switch off the electric fan.
“You have your cigarette lighter,” von Schiller told him. “We will light
tapers from these.” He pointed at the papers and photographs that Royan
had left lying on the trestle table by the doorway. “We will use the
smoke to detect any draught.”
For the next two hours they moved through all levels of the tomb,
holding aloft the burning tapers, watching the movement of the smoke. At
no point could they detect even the faintest movement of air in the
tunnels, and in the end they came back to the flooded shaft and stared
despairingly at the pool of still black water that blocked it.
“That is the only way out,” von Schiller whispered.
11 wonder if the monk escaped that way,” said Nahoot as he slumped down
“There is no other way.”
They were silent for a while; it -was difficult to judge the passage of
time in the tomb. Now that the river had found its own level there was
no movement of water in the shaft, and the faint and distant sound of
the current running through the sink-hole seemed merely to enhance the
silence. In it they could hear their own breathing.
Nahoot spoke at last. “The fuel in the generator. It must be running
low. I did not see any reserves-‘
They thought about what would happen when the small fuel tank ran dry.
They thought about the darkness to come.
Suddenly von Schiller screamed, “You have to go out through the shaft to
fetch help. I order you to do it., Nahoot stared at him in disbelief.
“It’s over a hundred yards back through the tunnel to the outside, and
the river is in flood.”
Von Schiller sprang to his feet and stood over Nahoot threateningly.
“The monk escaped that way. It’s the only way. You must swim through the
tunnel and reach Helm and Nogo. Helm will know what to do. He will make
a plan to get me out of here.”
“You are mad.” Nahoot backed away from him, but’von Schiller followed
“I order you to do id’
“You crazy old man!” Nahoot tried to scramble to his feet, but von
Schiller swung the heavy golden flail, a sudden unexpected blow in
Nahoot’s face that knocked him over backwards, splitting his lips and
breaking off two of his front teeth.
“You are rnad!” he wailed. “You can’t do this-‘ but von Schiller swung
again and again, lacerating his face and Is of the whip cutting
shoulders, the heavy golden tai through the thin cotton of his shirt.
“I will kill you,” von Schiller screamed, raining blows on him. “If you
don’t obey me I will kill you.”
“Stop!, Nahoot whined. “No, please, stop. I will do it, only stop.”
He crawled away from von Schiller, dragging himself along the floor of
the tunnel until he sat waist-deep in the water.
AZT’,, “Give me time to prepare he pleaded.
“Go now!” Von Schiller menaced him, lifting the whip high. “Very likely
you will find air trapped in the tunnel.
You will find your way through. Go!’
Nahoot scooped a double handful of water and dashed it into his own
face, washing away the blood that poured from one of the deep cuts in
“I have to take off my clothes, my shoes,” he whimpered, pleading for
time, but von Schiller would not allow him to leave the water.
Do it where you are standing, he ordered, brandishing the heavy whip. In
his other hand he held the heavy golden crook. Nahoot realized that a
blow from that weapon cou Id crack his skull.
Standing knee-deep “at the water’s edge, Nahoot hopped on one foot as he
pulled off his shoes. Then, slowly and reluctantly, he stripped to his
underpants. His shoulders were deeply scored by the lash of the flail,
fresh blood welling up and slithering like scarlet serpents down his
“He knew that he had to placate this crazy old madman.
He would duck under the surface and swim a short way down the tunnel,
hold on to the side wall down there for as long as his breath lasted,
and then swim back again.
“Go!” von Schiller shouted at him. “You are wasting time. Don’t think
that I will let you get out of this,, Nah6ot waded deeper into the shaft
until the water covered his chest. He paused there for a few minutes as
he drew a series of deep breaths. Then at last he held his breath and
ducked below the surfAce. Von Schiller stood waiting at the edge of the
pool, staring down into it but unable to see anything beneath the black
and ominous surface. In the lamplight Nahoot’s blood stained the
A minute passed slowly, and then suddenly there was a heavy swirl
beneath the waters, and a human arm rose through the dark surface, hand
and fingers extended as though in supplication. Then slowly it sank out
of sight again.
Von Schiller craned forward, “GuddabW he called
“I -. “What are you playing at?” angrily There was another swirl below
the water, and something flashed like a mirror in the depths.
“Guddabi !’von Schiller’s voice rose petulantly.
Almost as if in response to the summons, Nahoot’s head broke out through
the surface. His skin was.waxen yellow, drained of all blood, and his
mouth gaped open in a dreadful, silent scream. The water around him
boiled as though a shoal of great fish were feeding below. As von
Schiller stared in incomprehension, a dark tide rose up around Nahoot’s
head and stained the surface a rose-petal red. For a moment von Schiller
did not realize that it was Nahoot’s blood.
Then he saw the long, sinuous shapes darting and twisting beneath the
surface, surrounding Nahoot, feeding upon his flesh. Nahoot lifted his
hand again and extended it towards von Schiller, pleadingly. The arm was
halfdevoured, mutilated by deep half-moon wounds where the flesh had
been bitten away in chunks.
Von Schiller screamed in horror, backing away from the pool. Nahoot’s
eyes were huge and dark and accusing.
He stared at von Schiller and a wild cawing sound that was not human
issued from his straining throat.
Even as von Schiller watched, one of the giant tropical ee Is thrust its
head through the surface and its teeth gleamed like broken glass as it
gaped wide, and then locked its jaws on to Nahoot’s throat. Nahoot made
no effort to tear the creature away. He was too far gone. He stated at
von Schiller all the while that the eel, twisting and rolling into a
gleaming ball of slimy coils, still hung from his throat.
Slowly Nahoot’s head sank below the surface again.
For long minutes the pool was agitated by the movements in its depth and
the occasional gleam of one of the serpentine fish. Then gradually the
surface settled as still and serene as a sheet of black glass.
Von Schiller turned and ran, back up the incline shaft, past the landing
on which the generator still puttered quietly, blindly trying to get as
far away as he could from that dreadful pool. He did not know where he
was going, but followed any passageway that opened in front of him.
At the foot of the central stairway he ran into the corner Of the wall
and stunned himself, falling to the agate tiles and lying there
blubbering as a large purple lump rose on his forehead.
After a while he dragged himself to his feet and lurched up the stairs.
He was confused and disorientated, his mind starting to break up -in
delirium, driven over the edge of
652 it’s sanity by horror and fear. He fell again, and crawled along the
tunnel on his hands and knees to the next corner of . Only the was he
able to regain his feet to the maz stagger onwards.
The steep shaft leading down into Taita’s gas trap opened under his feet
without him seeing it. He fell down the steps, jarring and bruising his
legs and chest. Then he was on his feet again, reeling across the store
room past the ranks of amphorae, up the far staircase and into the
painted arcade that led to the torrib of Pharaoh Mamose.
He had tottered dowh half the length of it, dishevelled and wild’eyed
and demented, when suddenly the lights dimmed for a moment, fading to a
yellow glow. Then they brightened again as the generator sucked the last
drops of fuel from the bottom of the tank. Von Schiller stopped in the
centre of the arcade and looked up at the lights with despair. He knew
what was coming. For another few minutes the bulbs burned on, bright and
cheerfully, and then again they dimmed and faded.
The darkness settled over him like the heavy velvet folds of a funeral
pall. It was so intense and complete that it seemed to have a physical
weight and texture. He could taste the darkness in his mouth as it
seemed to force its way into his body and suffocate him.
He ran again, wildly and blindly, losing all sense of direction in the
blackness. He crashed headlong into stone and fell again, stunned. He
could feel the warm tickle of blood running down his face, and he could
not breathe. He whimpered and gasped and slowly, lying on his side, he
curled himself into a ball like a foetus in the womb.
He wondered how long it would take him to die, and his soul quailed as
he knew that it might take days and even weeks. He moved slightly,
cuddling in closer to the stone object with which he had collided. In
the darkness he had no way of telling that it was the great sarcophagus
of Mamose that sheltered him. Thus he lay in the darkness of the tomb,
surrounded by the funeral treasures of an emperor, and waited for his
own slow but inexorable death.
he monastery of St. Frumentius was deserted.
The monks had heard the gunfire and the sounds of battle echoing down
the gorge, and had gathered up their treasures and fled.
Nicholas ran down the long, empty cloister, pausing to catch his breath
at the head of the staircase that led down to the level of the Nile and
the Epiphany shrine where he had stored the boats. Panting, he searched
the gloom of the deep basin below him into which the sunlight se! Clom
reached, but the moving clouds of silver spray from the twin waterfalls
screened the depths. He had no way of telling if Sapper and Royan were
down there waiting for him, or if they had run into trouble on the
He adjusted the tattered and bloodstained bandage around his chin, and
then started down. Then he heard her voice in the silver mist below him,
calling his name, and she came pelting up the slippery, slime-covered
stairs towards him.
“Nicholas! Oh, thank God! I thought you weren’t coming.” She would have
rushed into his embrace, but then she saw his bandaged and blood-smeared
face, and she stopped and stared at him, appalled.
Sweet Mary!” she whispered. “What happened to you, Nickyr
“A little tiff with Jake Helm. Just a scratch, but I am 4, not much good
at kissing right now,” he mumbled, trying to grin around the bandage,
“You will have to wait for later.”
He put one arm around her shoulders, almost swinging her off her feet,
as he turned her to face down the stairs again.
“Where are the others?” He hurried her down.
“They are all here,” she told him. “Sapper and Mek are pumping the boats
They scrambled down the last flight of steps on to the jetty below the
Epiphany shrine. The Nile had risen ten feet since Nicholas had last
stood there. The river was full and angry, muddy and swift. He could
barely make out the cliffs on the far bank through the drifting clouds
The five Avon boats were drawn up at the edge. Four of them were already
fully inflated, and the last one was billowing and swelling as the air
was released into it from the compressed air cylinder. Mek and Sapper
were packing the ammunition crates into the ready boats and strapping
them down under green nylon cargo nets.
Sapper looked up at Nicholas and a comical expression of astonishment
spread over his bluff features, “What the blue bleeding blazes happened
to your face?”
“Tell you about it one day,” Nicholas promised, and turned to embrace
“Thank you, old friend,” he said sincerely, “Your men fought well, and
you waited for me.” Nicholas glanced at the row of wounded guerrillas
that lay against the foot of the cliff. “How many casualties?”
“Three dead, and these six wounded. It could have been much worse if
Nogo’s men had pushed us harder.”
“Still, it’s too many,” said Nicholas.
“Even one is too many,” Mek agreed gruffly.
“Where are the rest of your men?”
(on the run for the border. Kept just enough of them with me to handle
the boats.” Mek stripped the filthy bandage from Nicholas’s chin. Royan
gasped when she saw the injury, but Mek grinned.
“Looks as though you were chewed by a shark.”
“That’s right, I was,’Nicholas agreed.
WI BE, Mek shrugged. “It needs at least a dozen stitches.” He shouted
for one of his men to bring his pack.
Sorry, no anaesthetic,” -he warned Nicholas as he forced him to sit on
the transom of one of the boats and poured antiseptic straight from the
Nicholas let out a gasp of pain. “Burns, doesn’t it?” Mek agreed
complacently. “But just wait until I start sewing.”
“This kindness will be written down against your name in the golden
book,” Nicholas told him, and with an evil leer Mek broke the seal on a
As Mek worked on the wound, pulling the edges together and tugging the
thread tight, he spoke quietly so that Nicholas alone could hear. “Nogo,
has at least a full company of men guarding the river downstream. My
scouts tell me that he has placed them to cover the trails on both
“He doesn’t know that we have boats to run the river, does he?” Nicholas
asked through gritted teeth.
“I think it is unlikely, but he knows a great deal about our movements.
Perhaps he had an informer amongst your workmen.” Mek paused as he
pricked the needle into Nicholas’s flesh, and then went on, “And Nogo
still has the helicopter. He will spot us on the river as soon as this
The river is our only escape route. Let’s pray that the weather stays
socked in, like this.”
By the time Mek had tied off the last knot and covered Nicholas’s chin
with a Steri-Strip plaster, Sapper had finished inflating and loading
the last boat.
Four of Mek’s men carried Tessay’s litter to one of the boats. Mek
helped her aboard and settled her on the deck, making sure that she had
one of the safety straps close at hand. Then he left her and hurried to
where his wounded men lay in order to help them into the boats too. Most
of them could walk, but two had to be carried.
After that he came back to Nicholas. “I see you have found your radio,”
he said, as he glanced at the fibreglass case that Nicholas had slung
over his shoulder on its carrying strap.
“Without it we would be in big trouble.” Nicholas patted the case
“I will take command of that boat, with Tessay.”
“Good!” Nicholas agreed. “Royan will 90 with me in the lead boat.”
“You had better let me lead,’Mek said.
“What do you know about river running?” Nicholas asked him. “I am the
only one of us who has ever shot this river before.”
“That was twenty years ago,” Mek pointed out.
“I am an even better man now than I was then,” Nicholas grinned. “Don’t
argue, Mek. You come next, and Sapper in the one behind you. Are there
any of your men who know the river to command the other two boats?”
“All my men know the river,” Mek told him, and shouted his orders. Each
of them hurried to the Avon he had been allocated. Nicholas gave Royan a
boost over the gunwale of their boat, and then helped his men launch her
down the rocky bank. As soon as the hull floated free they scrambled
aboard and each man grabbed a paddle.
As they bent to their paddles, Nicholas Saw at once that every man of
his crew was indeed a riverman, as Mek had boasted. They pulled strongly
but smoothly, and the light inflatable craft shot out into the main
stream of the Nile.
The Avons were designed to accommodate sixteen, and were lightly loaded.
The ammunition cases that held the grave goods from the tomb were bulky
but weighed little, and there were not more than a dozen people in any
one boat. They all floated high and handled well.
“Bad water ahead,” Nicholas told Royan grimly. “All the way to the
Sudanese border.” He stood at the steering sweep in the stem, from where
he had a good forward view.
Royan crouched at his feet, clinging to on of the safety straps and
trying to keep out of the way of the oarsmen.
They cut across the current that was scouring the great stone basin
below the falls, and Nicholas lined up for the narrow heads through
which the river was escaping to the West. He looked up at the sky and
saw through the spray that the rain clouds were low and purple. They
seemed to sag down upon the tops of the tall cliffs.
“Luck starting to run our way,” he told Royan. “Even with the helicopter
they won’t be able to find us in this Weather.”
He glanced at his Rolex and the spray was heading the glass. “Couple of
hours until nightfall. We should be able to put a few miles of river
behind us before we are forced to stop for the night.”
He looked back over his stem and saw the rest of the little flotilla
bobbing along behind him. The Avons were reflective yellow in colour and
stood out brilliantly even in the mist and murk of the gorge. He lifted
his clenched fist high in the signal to advance, and from the following
boat Mek repeated the gesture and grinned at him through his beard.
The river grabbed them and they shot through its portals into the
narrow, twisted gut of the Nile. The men at the oars stopped paddling,
and let the river take them.
All they could do now was to help Nicholas to steer her through any
desperate moments, and they crouched ready along the gunwales.
The high water in the gorge had covered many of the reefs of rock, but
their presence below the surface was clearly marked by the waters that
humped up in standing waves or foamed white in the narrows between them.
The flood reached up high on either bank, dashing against the cliffs of
the sub-gorge. If an Avon overturned, or even if a crew member were
thrown overboard there would be no place on this river to heave-to and
pick up survivors.
658 95, Nicholas stood high and craned ahead. He had to pick his route
well in advance, and once committed he had to steer her through. It all
depended on his ability to read the river and judge her mods. He was out
of practice, and he had that tight, hard cannonball of fear in the pit
of his belly as he put the long sweep over and steered for the first run
of fast green water. They went swooping down it, Nicholas holding their
bows into it with delicate touches of the sweep, and came out into the
bottom of it with all the other boats following them down in sequence.
“Nothing to it!” Royan laughed up at him.
Don’t say itV Nicholas pleaded with her. The bad angel is listening.”
And he lined up for the head of the next set of rapids that raced
towards them with terrifying speed.
Nicholas steered through the gap between two outcrops of rock and they
shot the barrel, gaining speed down the chute. It was only when they
were halfway down that he saw the tall standing wave below them over
which the river leaped. He put the sweep across and tried to steer round
it, but the river had them firmly in its grip.
Like a hunter taking a fence they shot up the front of the standing
wave, and then with a sickening lurch plummeted down the far side into
the deep trough. The Avon folded across the middle, the bows almost
touching the stem as she tried to pull through the hole in the river
The crew were tumbled over each other and Nicholas would have been
catapulted overside if it had not been for his body line and his grip on
the steering sweep. Royan flung herself flat on the deck and hung on to
the safety strap with all her strength as the Avon’s buoyancy exerted
itself and the boat bounded high in the air, whipping back elastically
into its original shape, then hovered a moment and almost capsized
before it crashed back, right side up.
One of the crew had been hurled overboard and was floundering alongside,
carried along at the same speed as the flying Avon, so his comrades were
able to lean out and haul him back on board. The cargo of ammunition
crates had tumbled and shifted, but the nets had prevented any of them
from being lost over the side.
“What did you do that for?” Royan yelled at him. “Just when I was
beginning to trust you.”
“Just testing’he yelled back. “Wanted to see how tough you really are.”
“I admit it, I am a sissy,” she assured him. “You really don’t need to
do it again.”
Looking back, Nicholas saw Mek’s boat crash through the trough just as
they had, but the following craft had enough warning to steer clear and
slip through the sides of the run.
He looked ahead again, and his whole existence became the wild waters of
the river. His universe was contained within the tall cliffs of the
sub-gorge as he battled to bring the racing Avon through. He did not
know whether it was spray or rain that stung his cheeks and his wounded
chin, and that flew horizontally into his eyes and half-blinded him. At
times it was a mixture of the two.
An hour later Nicholas misjudged the rapids again, and they went in
sideways and almost capsized. Two of his crew were hurled overboard.
Steering fine and leaning outboard they managed to pull one of them from
the river, but the other man struck a rock before they could reach him.
He went under and did not rise again. None of them spoke or mourned him,
for they were all too busy staying alive themselves.
Once Royan shouted up at Nicholas through the rattling spray and the
thunder of the river all around them, “Helicopter! Can you hear it?”
Half-deafened, he looked up at the lowering grey belly of the clouds
that hung at the level of the cliffs, and faintly made out the whistle
and flutter of the rotors.
“Above the cloud!” he shouted back, wiping the rain and the spray from
his eyes with the back of his hand.
“They will never spot us in this.”
The onset of the African night was sped upon them by the low cloud. In
the gathering darkness another hazard leaped upon them with no warning
at all. One instant they were running hard and clear down a smooth
stretch of the river, and the next the waters opened ahead of them and
they were hurled out into space. It seemed that they fell for ever,
although it was a drop of not more than thirty feet, before they hit the
bottom and found themselves floating in a tangle of men and boats in the
pool below the falls. Here the river was stalled for a moment, revolving
upon itself while it gathered its strength for the next mad charge down
One of the Avons had capsized and was floating belly up – even its
highly stable hull had not been able to weather the down the falls,
The crews of the other ro boats gathered themselves and then paddled
across to drag the survivors from the water and to salvage the oars and
other floating equipment. It took the combined efforts of all of them to
right the overturned Avon, and then it was almost completely dark by the
time they had it back on even keel, “Count the crates!” Nicholas
ordered. “How many have we lost?”
He could hardly credit his good fortune when Sapper shouted back,
“Eleven still on board. All present and correct.” The cargo nets were
holding well. But all of them, men and women, were exhausted and soaked
through and shivering with the cold., Any attempt to go on in darkness
would be suicidal. Nicholas looked across at Mek in the nearest boat and
shook his head.
“There is a bit of slack water in the angle of the cliff.” Mek pointed
towards the tail of the pool. “We might be able to find moorings for the
There was a stunted but tough little tree growing out of the vertical
fissure in the rock, and they used this as a bollard and made a line
fast to it. Then they lashed all the Avons together in a line down the
cliff and settled in for the night. There was no chance of hot food or
drink, and they had to make do with some cold tinned rations eaten off
the blade of a bayonet, and a few chunks of soggy injera bread.
Mek scrambled over from his own boat and huddled down close beside
Nicholas with one arm over his shoulder and his lips close to his ear.
“I have made a roll call. Another man missing when we went over the
falls. We won’t find him now.”
“I am not doing too well,” Nicholas admitted. “Perhaps you should lead
“Not your fault.” Mek squeezed his shoulders. “Nobody could have done
better. It was this last waterfall-‘ he broke off and they listened to
it thundering away in the darkness.
“How far have we come?” Nicholas asked. “And’how much further to go?”
“It’s almost impossible to tell, but I guess we are halfway to the
border. Should reach there some time tomorrow afternoon.”
They were silent for a while, and then Mek asked, “What is the date
today? I have lost count of the days.”
“So have Nicholas tilted his wrist-watch so that he could read the
luminous dial in the last of the light. “Good God! It’s the thirtieth
already,” he said.
“Your pick-up aircraft is due at Roseires airstrip the day after
“The first of April,’Nicholas agreed. “Will we make it?”
“You answer that question for me.” Mek grinned in the night without
humour. “What, chances of your fat friend being late?”
jannie is a pro. He is never late,” said Nicholas. Again a silence fell,
and then Nicholas asked, “When we reach Roseires, what do you want me to
do with your share of the booty?” Nicholas kicked one of the ammunition
“Do you want to take it with you?”
“After we see you off on the plane with your fat friend, we are going to
be doing some hot-footed running from Nogo. I don’t want to be carrying
any extra luggage. You take my share with you. Sell it for me – I need
the money to keep fighting here.”
“You trust me?”
“You are my friend.”
“Friends are the easiest to cheat – they never expect it,” Nicholas told
him, and Mek punched his shoulder and chuckled.
“Get some sleep. We will have to do some hard paddling tomorrow.” Mek
stood up in the Avon as she pitched and rolled gently to the push of the
current. “Sleep well, old friend,” he said, and climbed across to the
boat alongside, where Tessay waited for him.
Nicholas braced his back against the soft pneumatic gunwale of the Avon
and took Royan in his arms. She sat between his knees and leaned back
against his chest, shivering in her sodden clothes.
After a while her shivering abated, and she murmured, “You make a very
good hot’water bottle.”
“That’s one reason for keeping me around on a permanent basis,” he said,
and stroked her wet hair. She did not answer him, but snuggled closer,
and a short while after, wards her breathing slowed as she fell into an
Although he was cold and stiff and his shoulders ached and his palms
were blistered from wrestling with the steering oar, he could not find
sleep as readily as she had.
Now that the prospect of reaching the airstrip at Roseires loomed
closer, he was troubled by problems other than those of simply
navigating the river and battling his way Wot through Nogo’s men. Those
were enemies he could recognize and fight; but there was something more
than that which he would soon have to face.
Royan stirred in his arrns and muttered something he could not catch.
She was dreaming and talking in her sleep.
He held her gently and she settled down. again. He had started to drift
off himself when she spoke again, this time quite clearly. “I am sorry,
Nicky. Don’t hate me for it.
I couldn’t let you-‘ her words slurred and he could make no sense of the
rest of it.
He was fully awake now, her words aggravating his doubts and misgivings.
During the rest of that night he slept only intermittently, and his rest
was troubled by dreams as distressing as hers must have been to hern the
pre-dawn darkness he shook Royan gently.
She moaned and came awake slowly and reluctantly.
They bolted down a few mouthfuls of the cold rations that remained from
the previous night. Then, as dawn lit the gorge just enough for them to
see the surface of the river and the obstacles ahead, they pushed off
from their moorings and the yellow boats strung out down the current.
The battle against the river began all over again.
The cloud cover was still low and unbroken, and the rain squalls swept
over them at intervals. They kept going all that morning, and slowly the
mood of the river began to ameliorate. The current was not so swift and
treacherous, and the banks not so high and rugged.
It was midafternoon and the clouds were still closed in solidly overhead
as they entered a stretch where the river threaded itself through a
series of bluffs and headlands, and they came upon another set of
rapids. Perhaps Nicholas was more expert in his technique by now, for
they swept through them without mishap, and it seemed to him that each
stretch of white water was progressively less severe than the last.
“I think we are through the worst of it now,” he told Royan as she sat
on the deck below him. “The gradient and the fall of the river are
definitely more gentle now. I think it is flattening out as we approach
the plains of the Sudan.”
“How much further to Roseires?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but the border can’t be too far ahead now.”
Nicholas and Mek were keeping the flotilla closed up in line astern, so
that orders could be shouted across the gaps between them and all the
boats kept under their command.
Nicholas steered for the deeper water on the outside of the next wide
bend, and as he came through it he saw that the stretch of river ahead
seemed open and altogether free of rapids or shoals. He relaxed and
smiled at Royan.
“How about lunch at the Dorchester grill next Sunday?
Best roast beef trolley in London.”
He thought he saw a shadow pass across her eyes before she smiled
brightly and replied, “Sounds good to me., “And afterwards we can go
back home and curl up in front of the telly and watch Match of the Day,
or play our 01″ little match.”
“You are rude,” she laughed, “but it does sound tempting.”
He was about to stoop over her, and kiss her for the pleasure of
watching her blush again, when he saw the dance of tiny white fountains
spurting up ftorn the surface of the river ahead of their bows, coming
swiftly towards, them. Then, moments later, he heard the crackle of
automatic fire, the distinctive sound of a Soviet RPD.
He threw himself down over the top of Royan, covering her with his own
body, and heard Mek bellowing from the boat behind them.
“Return fire! Keep their heads down.”
His men threw down their paddles and seized their weapons. They blazed
away towards the inner curve of the bank from where the attack was
The attackers were completely concealed amongst the rocks and scrub, and
there was no definite target to shoot at. However, in an ambush like
this it was essential to lay down as heavy a covering fire as possible,
to keep the attackers’ heads down and to upset their aim.
A bullet tore through the nylon skin of the Avon close to Royan’s head
and went on to lam into one of the metal offered ammunition crates. The
sides of their craft 0 protection at all from the heavy fusillade that
One of their crew was hit in the head. The bullet cut the top off his
skull like the shell of a soft’boiled egg, and he was flung over the
side. Royan screamed more with horro.
than with fear, while Nicholas snatched up the assault rifle that the
dead man had dropped and emptied the magazine towards the bank, firing
short taps of three and raking the scrub that concealed their attackers.
The Avon still raced downstream on the current, spiralling aimlessly as
she lost direction without the steering oar. It took them less than’ a
minute to be carried past the ambush and around the next bend of the
Nicholas dropped the empty rifle and shouted across at Mek, “Are you all
“One man hit here,” Mek yelled back. “Not too bad.” Each of the boats
reported their casualties: a total of one dead and three wounded. None
of the wounded was in a serious condition, and although three of the
boats had been holed, the hulls were made up of watertight compartments
and were all still floating high.
Mek steered his Avon alongside Nicholas’s and called across. “I was
beginning to think we had given Nogo the slip.”
“We got off lightly that time,” Nicholas called back.
“We probably took them by surprise. They weren’t expecting us to be on
“Well, no more surprises for him now. You can bet they are on the radio
already. Nogo knows exactly where we are and where we are headed.” He
looked up at the cloud. “We can only hope the cloud stays thick and
“How much further to the Sudanese border?”
“Not sure, but it can’t be more than another couple of hours.”
“Is the crossing guarded?” Nicholas asked.
“No. Nothing there. Just empty bush on both sides.”
“Let’s hope it stays empty,” Nicholas muttered.
Within thirty minutes of the fire-fight, they heard the helicopter
again. It was flying above the clouds, and as they listened it passed
overhead, but out of sight, and headed on downstream. Twenty minutes
later they heard it again, coming back in the opposite direction, and
shortly after that it flew downstream again, still above the cloud.
“What the hell is Nogo playing at?” Mek called across to Nicholas.
“Sounds as though he is patrolling the river, but he can’t get under the
“My guess is that he is ferrying men downstream to cut us off. Now he
knows we are using boats, he also knows that we can only head in one
direction. Nogo isn’t one to worry about international borders. He may
even have realized by now that we are heading for Roseires. It’s the
nearest unmanned airstrip along the river. He could be waiting for us
when we try to land., Mek steered his Avon closer and passed a line
across, tying the two boats together so that they could talk in normal
“I don’t like it, Nicholas. We are going to walk right into them again.
What do you suggest?”
Nicholas pondered for a long minute. “Don’t you recognize this part of
the river? Don’t you know precisely where we are yet?”
Mek shook his head. “I always keep well away from the river when we
cross the border, but I will recognize the old sugar’mill at Roseires
when we get there. It’s about three miles upstream from the airstrip.”
“DesertedT Nicholas asked.
“Yes. Abandoned ever since the war began twenty years ago.”
“With this cloud cover, it will be dark in an hour,” Nicholas said. “The
river is slower now and not so dangerous. We can take a chance and keep
on going after dark.
Perhaps Nogo won’t expect that. We might be able to give him the slip in
“Is that the best you can do?” Mek chuckled. “As a plan it sounds to me
a bit like closing your eyes and hoping for the best.”
“Well, if somebody could tell me where the hell we are, and what time
Jannie will arrive tomorrow, I might be able to come up with something a
bit more specific.” Nicholas grinned back at him. “Until that happens, I
am flying by the seat of my pants.”
All of them were tense with strung-out nerves as they paddled on into
the premature dusk beneath the thick blanket of cloud and rain. Even in
the gathering darkness the crew kept their weapons cocked and locked,
trained on either bank of the river, ready to return fire instantly.
“We must have crossed the border an hour ago,” Mek called to Nicholas.
“The old sugar mill can’t be far ahead.”
“In the dark, how will you find it?”
“There is the remains of an old stone jetty on the bank, from which the
riverboats taking the sugar down to Khartoum used to load.”
Night came down upon them abruptly, and Nicholas felt a sense of relief
as the river banks receded into the murk and the darkness hid them from
hostile eyes ashore.
As soon as it was fully dark they lashed the boats -together to prevent
them becoming separated and then let the river carry them on silently,
keeping so close in to the right hand bank that they ran aground more
than once, and some of the men had to slip over the side and push them
out into deeper water.
The stone piers of the jetty at Roseires sprang out at them
unexpectedly, and Nicholas’s leading Avon slammed into them before he
could steer clear. However, the crew were ready and they jumped over the
side into chest-deep water and dragged the boat to the bank. Immediately
Mek leaped ashore and, with twenty of his men, spread out into the
overgrown canefields along the bank to secure the area and prevent a
surprise attack by Nogo’s men.
There was confusion and more noise than Nicholas felt was safe as the
rest of the flotilla beached, and they began to bring the wounded ashore
and unload the cargo of ammunition cases. Nicholas piggybacked Royan to
the bank and then waded back to fetch Tessay. She was much stronger by
now. The enforced rest during the voyage down river had given her a
chance to recover, and she stood up unaided in the Avon and climbed on
to Nicholas’s shoulders to be brought ashore.
Once on dry ground he let her slide down on to her own feet and asked
her quietly, “How are you feeling?”
“I will be all right now, thank you, Nicholas,” He supported her for a
moment while she recovered her balance and said quickly, “I did not have
a chance to ask earlier. What about Royan’s message that she asked you
to telephone from Debra Maryam? Did you get it through for her?
“Yes, of course,” Tessay replied guilelessly. “I told Royan that I had
given her message to Moussad at the Egyptian Embassy. Didn’t she tell
Nicholas winced as though he had taken a low punch, but he smiled and
kept his tone casual. “It must have slipped her mind. Not important,
anyway. But thanks nevertheless, Tessay.”
PM-Om At that moment Mek came striding out of the darkness and spoke in
a harsh whisper. “This sounds like a camel market. Nogo will hear us
from five miles away.” Quickly 3. he took command and started to
organize the shore party Once the last of the ammunition crates were
unloaded, they dragged the boats into the canefields and unscrewed the
valves that deflated the pontoons. Then they piled cane trash over them.
Still working in the dark they distributed the cargo of ammunition
crates amongst Mck’s men. Sapper took a case under each arm. Nicholas
slung the radio over one shoulder and his emergency pack over the other,
and balanced on his head the case that contained Pharaoh’s golden
death-mask and the Taita ushabti.
Mek sent his scouts forward to sweep the route out to the airstrip and
make certain that they did not run into an ambush. Then he took the
point and the rest of them strung out in Indian file along the rough,
overgrown track behind him. Before they had covered a mile the clouds
suddenly opened overhead, and the crescent moon and the stars showed
through and gave them enough light to make out the chimneystack of the
ruined mill against the night sky.
But even with this moonlight their progress was slow and broken ses, by
long pau for the stretcher-bearers carrying the wounded had difficulty
keeping up. By the time they reached the airstrip it was after three in
the morning and the moon had set. They stacked the ammunition cases in
the same grove of acacia trees at the end of the runway where they had
cached the pallets of dam-building equipment and the yellow tractor on
the inward journey.
Although they were all exhausted by this time, Mek set out his pickets
around the camp. The two women tended the wounded, working by the light
of a small screened fire as they used up the last of Mek’s medical
Sapper used the one electric torch whose batteries still held a charge,
and he gave Nicholas a discreet screened light while he set up the radio
and strung the aerial.
Nicholas’s relief was intense when he opened the fibreglass case and
found that, despite its dunking in the Nile, the rubber gasket that
seated the lid had kept the radio dry.
When he switched on the power, the pilot light lit up. He tuned in to
the shortwave frequency and picked up the early morning commercial
transmission of Radio Nairobi.
Yvonne Chaka Chaka was singing; he liked her voice and her style. But he
quickly switched off the set so as to conserve the battery, and settled
back against the hole of the acacia tree to try and get a little rest
before daylight broke. However, sleep eluded him – his sense of betrayal
and anger were too strong.
uma Nogo watched the sun push its great fiery head out of the surface of
the Nile ahead of them. They were flying only feet above the water to
keep under the Sudanese military radar trans missions. He knew there was
a radar station at Khartoum that might be able to pick them up, even at
Relations with the Sudanese were strained, and he could expect a quick
and savage response if they discovered that he had violated their
Nogo was a confused and worried man. Since the d6bdcle in the gorge of
the Dandera river everything had run strongly against him. He had lost
all his allies. Until they were gone he had not realized how heavily he
had come to rely on both Helm and von Schiller. Now he was on his own
and he had already made many mistakes.
But despite all this he was determined to pursue the fugitives, and to
run them down no matter how far he had to intrude into Sudanese
territory. Over the past weeks it had gradually dawned’upon Nogo, mostly
by eavesdropping on the conversations of von Schiller and the jr
Egyptian, that Harper and Mek Nimmur were in possession of treasure of
immense value. His imagination could barely asp the enormity of it, but
he had heard others speak of gr tens of millions of dollars. Even a
million dollars was a sum so vast that his mind had difficulty
assimilating it, but he I i had a vague inkling as to what it might mean
in earthly terms, of the possessions and women and luxuries it could
Equally slowly it had dawned upon him that, now that Von Schiller and
Helm were gone, this treasure could be his alone; there was no longer
any other person to stand in his way, other than the fleeing shufta led
by Mek Nimmur and the Englishman. And he had overwhelming force on his
side and the helicopter at his command.
if only he could pin the fugitives down, Nogo was certain he could wipe
them out. There must be no survivors, no one to carry tales to Addis.
After Mek and the Englishman and all their followers were dead it would
be a simple matter to spirit his booty out of the country in the
helicopter. There was a man in Nairobi and another in Khartoum whom he
had dealt with before; they had bought contraband ivory and hashish from
him. They would know how to market the booty to best advantage, although
they were both devious men. He had already decided that he would not
trust it all to one person but would spread the risk, so that even if
one of them betrayed and cheated him His mind raced off on another tack,
and he savoured the thought of great riches and what they could buy for
him. He would have fine clothes and motor cars, land and cattle and
women – white women and black and brown, all the women he could use, a
new one for every day of his life. He broke off his greedy daydreams.
First he had to find where the runaways had vanished to.
He had not realized that Harper and Mek Nimmur had inflatable boats
hidden somewhere near the monastery.
Hansith had not informed him of that fact. He and Helm had expected them
to try to escape on foot, and all the plans to head them off before they
could reach the Sudanese border had been based on that assumption. On
Helm’s orders, he had even set up a reserve fuel dump near the border
where they expected Mek Nimmur to cross, from which they could refuel
the helicopter. Without those supplies of fuel he would long ago have
been forced to give up the chase.
Nogo had placed his men to cover the trails leading along the river bank
towards the west, and he had not even considered guarding the river
itself. It was quite by chance that one of his patrols had been in a
position to spot the flotilla of yellow boats as they came racing
downstream. However, there had not been enough warning to enable them to
set up an effective ambush, and they had been able to fire on the boats
only briefly before they escaped. They had not inflicted serious damage
on any of the boats – at least, not enough to stop them getting through.
Immediately the company commander had radioed his report of this contact
with Mek Nimmur, Nogo had started ferrying men downstream to the
Sudanese border to cut off the flotilla. Unfortunately, the Jet Ranger
could carry no more than six fully armed men at a time, and transporting
them had been a time-consuming business. He had only succeeded in
bringing sixty of his men into position before night had fallen.
During the night he fretted that the flotilla was slipping past him, and
with the dawn they were in the air again. Fortunately the cloud had
broken up during the night. There was still some high cumulus overhead,
but they were now able to fly low along the river and search for any
sign of Mek Nimmur’s flotilla.
They had first flown back along the river on the Ethiopian side of the
border, as far as the point where Mek Nimmur and Harper had been fired
upon. They had picked up no sign of the boats, so Nogo had forced the
pilot to turn back, cross the border and search the Sudanese stretch the
Nile. But Nogo had only been able to persuade his pilot to penetrate
sixty nautical miles along the Nile into the Sudan before the man had
rebelled. Despite the Tokarev pistol that Nogo held to his head, he had
banked the jet Ranger into a 180-degree turn and headed back low along
By now Nogo knew he had been defeated and ourwitd. He brooded unhappily
in the front seat of the helicopter ter beside the pilot, trying to
fathom out what had happened to his quarry. He saw the tall smokestack
of the abandoned sugar-mill at Roseires poking up into the early morning
sky, and he glowered at it angrily. They had passed the mill only a
short while before on their way downstream.
“Turn in towards the north bank,” he ordered the pilot, and the man
hesitated and glanced at him before he obeyed..
They passed directly over the building, flying lower than the chimney.
The factory was roofless and the windows were empty rectangles in the
broken walls. The boilers and machinery had been removed twenty years
previously, and Nogo could look into the empty shell. The pilot hovered
the aircraft while Nogo peered down, but there was no place where anyone
could hide, and Nogo shook his head.
“Nothing! We have lost them. Head back upstream.” The pilot lifted the
machine’s nose and turned away towards the river, obeying the order with
alacrity. As the aircraft banked steeply, Nogo was looking down directly
into the overgrown canefields verging the river when a flash of bright
yellow caught his eye.
“Waid’ he shouted into his mike. “There is something 9 there. Go back!’
The helicopter hovered over the field, and Nogo gestured urgently
downwards. “Down! Put us down.”
As soon as the skids touched the earth, the stick of six heavily armed
troopers dived out of the rear cabin and raced out to take up defensive
positions. Nogo clambered out of the front door and ran into the
overgrown bed of tall cane. One look was all he needed. The yellow boats
had been deflated and folded and hastily covered. The earth around them
had been churned up by booted feet.
The tracks led away inland. The men who had made them had been heavily
laden, for they had trodden deeply into the soft, sandy earth.
Nogo ran back to the helicopter and thrust his head in through the open
cabin door. “Is there an airstrip near here?” he shouted at the pilot,
who shook his head.
“There is nothing shown on the chart,, “There must have been one. The
sugar’mill would have had a strip.”
“If there was one, it must have been decommissioned years ago.
“We will find it,’Nogo declared. “Mek Nimmur’s tracks will lead us to
it.” He sobered immediately. “But I will have to bring up more men.
judging by his spoor, Mek Nimmur has at least fifty of his shufta with
He left his men at the sugar-mill and flew back to the border with an
empty rear cabin to pick up the first load of reinforcements.
‘nDig Dolly! Come in, Big Dolly. This is Pharaoh.
Do you read?” Nicholas put out his first call an MD hour before sunrise.
“If I know the way jannie’s mind works, and I should, he would plan to
make his approach flight in darkness and arrive here as soon as there is
enough light to pick up the strip and land.”
7L 111.7- 7 -7
“If the Fat Man comes,” Mek Nimmur qualified.
“He will come,” said Nicholas confidently. “Jannie has never let me down
yet.” He thumbed the microphone and called again: “Big Dolly! Come in,
The static hummed softly, and Nicholas retuned the set carefully. He
called again every fifteen minutes as they huddled around the set in the
dark under the acacia trees.
Suddenly Royan started to her feet and exclaimed excitedly, “There he
is. I can hear Big Dolly’s engines.
Nicholas and Mek ran out into the open, and turned their faces upwards,
looking into the north.
Nicholas exclaimed sud
“That’s not the Hercules, denly. “That’s another machine.” He turned and
faced southwards, towards the river. “Anyway, it’s coming from the wrong
“You are right,” Mek agreed. “That’s a single engine, and it’s not a
fixed wing. You can hear the rotors.”
“The Pegasus helicopter!” Nicholas exclaimed bitterly.
“They are on to us again.”
As they listened, the sound of the rotors faded.
Nicholas looked relieved. “They missed us. They can’t have IR spotted
They trooped back under the cover of the acacias, and Nicholas called
again on the radio, but there was no reply from Jannie.
Twenty minutes later they heard the sound of the jet Ranger returning,
and they monitored it anxiously.
“Gone again,” said Nicholas after a while, but then twenty minutes later
they heard it yet again.
“Nogo is up to something out there,’Mek said uneasily.
“What do you think it is?” Nicholas was infected by his mood. When Mek
worried, there was usually a damned good reason to worry.
“I don’t know,” Mek admitted. “Perhaps Nogo has spotted the Avbns and is
bringing up more men before he comes after us.” He went out into the
open and listened intently, then came back to where Nicholas crouched
over the radio.
“Keep calling,” he said. “I am going out to the perimeter to make
certain my men are ready to hold Nogo off if he comes., The helicopter
moved up and down the Nile at’short intervals during the next three
hours, but the lack of any further developments lulled them, and
Nicholas barely looked up from the radio each time they heard the
distant beat of the rotors. Suddenly the radio crackled, and Nicholas
started violently at the shock.
“Pharaoh! This is Big Dolly. Do you read?”
Nicholas’s voice bubbled over with relief as he replied, “This is
Pharaoh. Speak sweet words to me, Big Dolly.”
“ETA your position one hour thirty minutes.” jannie’s accent was
“You will be very welcome!” Nicholas promised him fervently.
He hung up the microphone and beamed at the two women, “Jannie is on his
way, and he will-‘
He broke off and his smile shrivelled to an expression of dismay. From
the direction of the river came the unmistakable rattle of AK-47 rapid
fire, followed a few seconds later by the crump of an exploding grenade.
“Oh, dammit to hell!” he groaned. “I thought it was too good to last.
Nogo has arrived.”
He picked up the mike again and spoke into it expressionlessly. “Big
Dolly! The uglies have arrived on the scene. It’s going to have to be a
“Hang on to your crown, Pharaoh!” jannie’s voice floated back. “I am on
During the next half-hour the sounds of the fighting along the river
intensified until the rattle of small-arms fire was almost continuous,
and gradually it crept closer to the far end of the airstrip. It was
clear that Mek’s men, spread , out thinly along the river end of the
strip, were falling back before the thrust of Nogo’s men. And every
twenty minutes or so there was’the sound of the returning helicopter, as
it ferried another stick of men to increase the pressure on Mek’s scanty
Nicholas and Sapper were the only ablebodied men left in the acacia
grove, for all the others had gone out to defend the perimeter. The two
of them moved the ammunition crates to the edge of the trees, where they
could be loaded in haste once the Hercules landed.
Nicholas sorted out the cargo, reading the contents of each crate from
the notations on the lids in Royan’s handwriting. The crate containing
the death -mask and the Taita ushabd would be the first to go aboard,
followed by the three crowns- the blue war crown, the Nemes crown and
the red and white crown of the united kingdoms of upper and lower Egypt.
The value of those three crates probably exceeded that of all the rest
of the treasure combined.
Once the cargo had been taken care of, Nicholas went down the row of
wounded men and spoke to each of them in turn. First, he thanked them
for their help and sacrifice, red to take them out on the Hercules to
and then offed where they could receive proper medical attention. He
mised each of them that, if they accepted the offer, he pro would see to
it . -lat once they had recovered from their wounds they could return to
Seven of them – those who were less seriously wounded and were able to
walk – refused to leave Mek Nimmur.
Their loyalty was a touching demonstration of the high regard in which
Mek was held by his men. The others reluctantly agreed to be evacuated,
but only after Tessay had intervened and added her assurances to
Then he and Sapper carried them to the point at the edge of the grove
where jannie would halt Big Dolly for the pick’up.
“What about you?” Nicholas asked Tessay. “Are you coming out with us?
You are still in pretty bad shape.”
Tessay laughed. “While I can still stand on my two feet, I will never
leave Mek Nimmur.”
“I can’t understand what you see in that old rogue,” Nicholas laughed
with her. “I have -spoken to Mek. He wants me to take his share of the
booty with me. He won’t be able to carry any extra luggage at the
“Yes, I know. Mek and I discussed it. We need the money to continue the
She broke off and ducked involuntarily, as a stunning explosion cracked
in their eardrums and a tall column of dust leaped into the air close to
the edge of the grove.
Shrapnel whistled over their heads and twigs and leaves rained down on
sweet Mary! What was that?” Tessay cried.
“Two-inch mortar,’said Nicholas. He had not moved, nor made any attempt
to take cover. “More bark than bite.
Nogo must have brought it in with his last flight.”
“When will the Hercules get here?”
“I’ll give jannie a call, and ask him.”
As Nicholas sauntered over to the radio set Tessay whispered to Royan,
“Are you English always so cooV
“Don’t Ask me – I’ mostly Egyptian, and I am terrified.” Royan smiled
easily and put her arm around Tessay. “I am going to miss you, Lady
“Perhaps we will meet again in happier times.” Tessay turned her head
and kissed her impulsively, and Royan hugged her hard.
“I hope so. I hope so with all my heart.”
Nicholas spoke into the microphone. “Big Dolly, this is Pharaoh. “What
is your position now?”
“Pharaoh, we are twenty minutes out, and hurrying.
Did you have baked beans for dinner or is that mortar fire I hear in the
“With your wit you should have gone on the stage,’
Nicholas told him. “The uglies have control of the south end of the
strip. Make your approach from the north. The wind is wester rly at
about five knots. So any way you come in, it will be cross-wirid.
“Roger, Pharaoh. How many passengers and cargo do YOU have for me?”
“Passengers are six cas-evac plus three, Cargo is fifty-two crates,
about a quarter of a ton weight.”
“Hardly worth coming all this way for so little, Pharaoh.”
“Big Dolly. Be advised, there is another aircraft in the circuit. A jet
Ranger helter. Colour green and red. It 1cop is a hostile, but unarmed.”
“Roger, Pharaoh. I will call again on finals.”
the two women were Nicholas went back to where waiting with the wounded.
“Not long now,” he told them cheerfully. He had to raise his voice to
make himself heard above the din of mortar bursts and rapid small’arms
“Just enough time for a cup of tea,” he said. He pushed a few twigs into
the embers of the previous night’s fire, then rummaged in his small
emergency pack for the last of his tea bags while Sapper placed the
smoke-blackened billycan back on the burgeoning flames.
They only had one mug between them. “Girls first,” said Nicholas,
passing it to Royan. She took a swallow and scalded her lips.
Good!, she sighed, and then cocked her head. “This time it is definitely
Big Dolly I can hear.”
Nicholas listened and then nodded. “I think you are right.” He stood up
and went to the radio. “Big Dolly. You are audible.”
“Five minutes to landing, Pharaoh.”
From where he stood, Nicholas looked down the long strip. Mek’s men were
retreating, flitting like smoke through the thorn scrub and firing back
in the direction of the river. Nogo was pushing them hard now.
“Hurry along, Jannie he murmured, and then adjusted his expression as
he turned back to the two women. “Plenty of time to finish your tea.
Don’t waste it.”
The rumble of Big Dolly’s engines was louder than the sound of gunfire
now. Then suddenly she was in sight, coming in so low that she seemed to
brush the tops of the thorn trees. She was enormous, Her wingspan
reached from one side of the narrow overgrown strip to the other. Jannie
touched her down short, and she blew out a long rolling cloud of brown
dust behind her as he put the engines into reverse thrust.
Big Dolly went barrelling past the clump of acacia, and Jannie waved to
them from the high cockpit. The moment he had bled off enough speed, he
stood on his footbrakes and rudder bar. Big Dolly spun around in her own
length and came roaring back down the strip towards them, her loading
ramp beginning to drop open even before she reached them.
Fred was waiting in the open hatchway, and he ran down to’help Sapper
and Nicholas with the wounded men on the litters. It took only a few
minutes to carry them up the ramp, and then they started loading the
ammunition crates. Even Royan gave a hand, staggering up the ramp with
one of the lighter crates clutched to her chest.
A mortar shell exploded a hundred and fifty yards beyond the parked
Hercules, and then half a minute later a second shell fell a hundred
“Ranging shots,” Nicholas grunted, picking up a crate under each arm and
running up the ramp.
“They have us in their sights now,” Fred shouted. “We have to get out of
here. Leave the rest of the cargo. Let’s go, GoV
There were only four crates still lying under the NMI-, MOrJL
spreading branches of the acacia, and both Nicholas and Sapper ignored
the order and ran back down the ramp.
and raced back.
They snatched up a crate under each arm “Me ramp was starting to rise
and Big Dolly’s engines roared as she began to taxi out. They hurled the
crates over the tailboard of the rising ramp and then jumped up to grab
a handhold and pull themselves aboard. Nicholas was the first up and
reached down to haul Sapper in.
When he looked back, Tessay was a small, lonely figure under the
“Give Mek my love and thanks,” he bellowed at her.
ou know how to contact us,” she screamed back.
“Goodbye, Tessay’ Royan’s voice was lost in the blast of the great
engines, and the dust blew back in a sheet over Tessay so that she was
forced to cover her face and turn away. The ramp hissed closed on its
hydraulic. rams, and cut out their last glimpse of her.
Nicholas put an arm around Royan’s shoulders and hustled her down the
length of the cavernous cargo hold and into one of the jum seats at the
entrance to the cockpit.
“Strap yourself in!” he ordered, and ran up the steps to the cockpit.
“Thought you had decided to stay behind,” Jannie greeted him mildly,
without looking up from his controls.
“Hold tight! Here we go.”
Nicholas clung on to the back of the pilot’s seat as bank of Jannie and
Fred between them pushed forward the throttle levers to full power, and
Big Dolly built up speed until she was careering down the strip.
Looking over Jannie’s shoulder” Nicholas saw the vague shapes of men in
camouflage battledre.ss amongst . Some of them the thorn scrub at the
end of the runwa raced tow huge aircraft as it ards were firing at the
“Those popguns aren’t going to hurt her much,” Jannie . “Big Dolly is a
tough old lady.” And – lifted her grunted into the air.
They flashed over the heads of the enemy troops on the ground, and
Jannie set her nose high in the climb attitude.
“Welcome aboard! folks, thank you for flying Africair.
Next stop Malta,” Jannie drawled, and then his voice rose sharply, “Oh,
oh! Where did this little piss-cat come from?”
Directly ahead of them the Jet Ranger rose out of the thick scrub on the
banks of the Nile. The angle of the helicopter’s climb meant that the
approaching Hercules was hidden from the pilot’s view, and he continued
to rise directly into their path.
“Only five hundred feet and a hundred and ten knots on the clock,” Fred
shouted a warning at his father from the right’hand seat. “Too low to
The jet Ranger was so close that Nicholas could clearly see Tuma Nogo in
the front seat, his spectacles reflecting the sunlight like the eyes of
a blind man, and his face freezing into a rictus of terror as he
suddenly saw the great machine bearing down on them. At the last
possible moment the pilot put his aircraft over in a wild dive to try to
ear It nose of the approaching Hercules. It seemed impossible to avoid
the collision, but he managed to bank, the lighter, more manoeuvrable
machine over until it rolled almost on to its back. It slipped under the
belly of the Hercules, and the men in the cockpit of Jannie’s plane
barely felt the light kiss of the two fuselages.
However, the helicopter was flung over on to its nose by the impact,
until it was pointing straight down at the earth only four hundred feet
below, While Big Dolly flew on, climbing away steadily on an even keel,
the pilot of the et Ranger struggled to control his crazily plummeting
machine. Two hundred feet above the earth the turbulence thrown out
astern by the massive T56,A-15 turbo-prop engines of the Hercules, each
rated at 4900 horsepower, struck the helicopter with the force of an
Like a dead leaf in an autumn gale she was swept away, spinning end over
end, and when she struck the ground her own engines were still squealing
at full power. On impact the fuselage crumpled like a sheet of aluminium
cooking foil, and Nogo was dead even before the fuel tanks exploded and
a fireball engulfed the jet Ranger.
As soon as Jannie reached safe manoeuvring altitude he brought Big Dolly
around on her northerly heading, and they could look back over the wing
at the Roseires airstrip falling away behind them. The column of black
smoke from the burning helicopter was tar-thick as it drifted away on
the light westerly wind.
“You did say they were the uglies?” Jannie asked. “So rather them than
nce Jannie had settled Big Dolly on her sailing low northerly heading,
and they were over the open deserted Sudanese plains, Nicholas went back
into the main hold.
“Let’s get the wounded settled down comfortably , he an unbuckled their
safety belts suggested. Sapper and Roy and went back with him to attend
to the men lying where haste of the their litters had been dumped during
the getaway from Roseires.
After a while Nicholas left them to it and went forward flight deck. He
to the small, well-stocked galley behind the soup and sliced hunks of
fresh bread opened some canned from the loaves he found in the
refrigerator. While the tea water boiled, he found his small emergency
pack, and took from it.the nylon wallet which contained his medicines
and drugs. From one of the vials he shook five white tablets into the
palm of his hand.
In the galley he crushed the tablets to powder, and when he poured tea
into two of the mugs he stiffed the powder in with it. Royan had enough
English blood in her veins never to be able to refuse a mug of hot tea.
After they had served soup and buttered toast to the wounded men, Royan
accepted her mug from Nicholas gratefully. While she and Sapper sipped
their tea, Nicholas went back to the flight deck and leaned over the
back of Jannie’s seat.
“What is our flying time to the Egyptian border?” he asked.
“Four hours twenty minutes,’Jannic told him.
“Is there any way that we can avoid flying into Egyptian air
space?”Nicholas wanted to know.
Jannie swivelled around in his seat and stared at him with astonishment.
“I suppose we could make a turn out to the west, through Gadaffi-land.
Of course, it would mean an extra seven hours’ flying time, and we would
probably run out of fuel and end up making a forced landing somewhere
out there in the Sahara.” He lifted an eyebrow at Nicholas. “Tell me, my
boy, what inspired that stupid question?”
“It was just a rare thought,’Nicholas said.
“Let it be not merely rare, but extinct,” Jannie advised.
“I don’t want to hear it asked again, ever.”
Nicholas slapped his shoulder. “Put it out of your mind.” When he went
back into the main hold, Sapper and Royan were sitting on two of the
fold-down bunks that were bolted to the main bulkhead. Royan’s empty tea
mug stood on the deck at her feet. Nicholas sat down beside her, and she
reached up and touched the bloodstained dressing that covered his chin.
“You had better let me see to that.” Her fingers were deft and cool on
his hot inflamed skin as she cleaned the T
stitches with an alcohol swab and then placed a fresh plaster over them.
Nicholas felt a strong twinge of guilt as he submitted to her
However, it was Sapper who was the first to show the effects of the
doped tea. He lay back gently and closed his eyes, then a soft snore
vibrated his lips. Minutes later Royan sagged drowsily against
Nicholas’s shoulder. When she was fast asleep, he let her down gently
and lifted her feet up on to the bunk. He spread a rug over her. She did
not even stir, and he had a moment’s doubt about the strength of the
Then he kissed her forehead softly. “How could I ever hate you?” he
asked her softly. “Whatever you did.”
He went into the lavatory and locked the door. He had plenty of time.
Sapper and Royan wouldn ot wake for hours yet, and Jannie and Fred were
happily ensconced on the flight’deck, listening to Dolly Parton tapes on
the audio system.
When at last he had finished, Nicholas glanced at his wrist-watch and
realized that it had taken him almost two hours, He closed the toilet
seat and washed his hands carefully. Then he took one last careful took
around the tiny cabin and unlocked the door.
Sapper and Royan were still fast asleep on the folddown bunks. He went
forward to the flight-deck, and Fred pulled his earphones down around
his neck and grinned at him.
“Nile water. It’s poisonous. You have been locked in the loo for the
last couple of hours. Surprised that there is anything left of you.”
Nicholas ignored the jibe and leaned over Jannie’s seat back. “Where are
With a thick forefinger Jannie stabbed the chart that he was balancing
on his protruding belly. “Almost in the clear,” he said complacently.
“Egyptian border in one hour twelve minutes.”
Nicholas remained standing behind his seat until Jannie grunted and
lifted the microphone. “Time to go into my act.”
“Hallo, Abu Simbel Approach!” he said in a Gulf States accent. “This is
Zulu Whiskey Uniform Five Zero Zero.”
There was a long silence from the Egyptian controller.
Jannie grunted. “He probably has’a hint in the tower with him. Got to
give him time to get his pants back on.”
Abu Simbel Control answered on his fifth call. Jannie launched into his
tried and tested routine, feigning ignorance in fluent colloquial
After five minutes, Abu Simbel cleared him to continue on northwards,
with an instruction to “call again abeam Aswan’.
They flew on serenely for another hour, but Nicholas nerves were
screwing up tighter every minute.
Suddenly, without the least warning, there was a silvery flash ahead of
them as a fighter interceptor, coming from below them, pulled up steeply
across their bows.
Jannie shouted with surprise and an eras another two 9 warplanes
rocketed up from under them, so close that they were buffeted by the
turbulence of their jet trails.
They all recognized the type. They were MiG21 “fishheads’ sporting the
Egyptian air force livery, and with air-to-air missiles hanging in
menacing pods under their swept-back wings.
“Unidentified aircraft! Jannie yelled into his mouthpiece. “You are on
collision course. State your call sign!” They all craned their necks and
stared up through -he Perspex canopy over the flight-deck. High above
them they could see the three MiG fighters in formation circling against
the blue of the African sky.
“ZVVU 500. This is Red Leader of the Egyptian people’s air force. You
will conform to my orders.”
Jannie looked back at Nicholas, his expression forlorn.
something has gone wrong here. How the hell did they tumble to us?”
“You’ better do what the man says, Dad,” Fred advised miserably,
‘otherwise he is going to blow us all over the sky.”
Jarnie shrugged helplessly, and then spoke into his microphone
mournfully. “Red Leader, This is ZVVU 500.
We will cooperate. Please state your intentions.”
“Your new heading is 053. Execute immediately!” Jannie brought Big Dolly
around into the east and then glanced at his chart.
“Aswan!” he said dolefully. “The Gyppos are taking us to Aswan. What the
hell, I might as well warn Aswan tower that we have wounded on board.”
Nicholas went back to Royans bunk and shook her awake. She was groggy
and unsteady on her feet from the effects of the drug as she staggered
to the lavatory. However, when she emerged again ten minutes later her
hair was combed and she seemed alert and recovered from the mild draught
that she had drunk in her tea. – here was the Nile ahead of them once
more, 6.. and the town of Aswan on both banks, nestling below the first
cataract and the impounded waters of the High Dam. Kitchener’s Island
swam like a green fish in the middle of the stream.
As the voice of the military controller at the Aswan irfield gave Jannie
his orders, Big Dolly settled with unruffled dignity and lined up for
the straight-in approach to the tarmac runway. The MiG fighters which
had shepherded them in from the desert were no longer visible, but their
presence high above was betrayed by their terse radio transmissions as
they handed over their captive to the ground control.
Big Dolly sailed in over the perimeter fence and touched down, and the
voice of the controller ordered them, “Turn first taxi-way right.”
Jannie obeyed, and as he turned off the main runway there was a small
vehicle with a sign on its roof which read, in both English and Arabic,
The vehicle led them to a row of camouflaged concrete hangars in front
of which a ground crew in khaki overalls signalled them with paddles
into a parking stand. As soon as Jannie applied his brakes and brought
Big Dolly to a halt, a file of four armoured half-tracks raced out and
surrounded the huge aircraft, training their turret weapons upon her.
Obedient to the instructions radioed7by control, Jannie shut down his
engines and lowered the tail ramp of the aircraft. No one on the
flight-deck had spoken since they had landed. They stood crowded
together, looking unhappy, peering out of the cockpit windows.
Suddenly a white Cadillac with an escort of armed motorcyclists,
followed by a military ambulance and a three-ton transport truck, drove
through the gate of the perimeter fence and came directly to the foot of
the cargo ramp of the Hercules. The chauffeur jumped out and opened the
door, and his passenger stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine. He
was clearly a person of authority, dignified and composed. He wore a
light tropical suit and white shoes, a panama hat and dark glasses. As
he came up the ramp to where the five of them waited, he was followed by
two male secretaries.
He removed his dark glasses and tucked them into his breast pocket. As
he recognized Royan he smiled and lifted his hat, “Dr Al Simma – Royan!
You did it. Congratulations!” He took her hand and shook it warmly, not
relinquishing his grip as he looked directly at Nicholas.
“You must be Sir Nicholas Quenton Harper. I have been looking forward to
meeting you immensely. Won’t you please introduce us, Royan?”
Royan could not meet Nicholas’s accusing scrutiny as she said, “May I
present His Excellency, Atalan Abou Sin, Minister of Culture and Tourism
in the Egyptian government.”
“You may indeed,” said Nicholas coldly. “What an unexpected
“I would like to express the thanks of the President and the people of
Egypt for returning to this country these recious relics of our ancient
but glorious history.” He made a gesture that encompassed the stack of
“Please, think nothing of it,” said Nicholas, but he never took his eyes
off Royan. She kept her face turned half-away from him.
“On the contrary, we think the world of what you have done, Sir
Nicholas.” Abou Sin’s smile was charming and urbane. “We are fully aware
of the expense to which you have been put, and we would not want you to
be out of pocket in this extraordinarily generous gesture of yours. Dr
Al Simma tells me that the expedition to recover these treasures for us
has cost you a quarter of a million sterling.” He took an envelope from
his inside pocket, and proffered it to Nicholas.
“This is a banker’s draft drawn on the Central Bank of Egypt. It is
irrevocable, and payable anywhere in the world.
It is for the sum of 1250,000.1
“Very generous of you, Your Excellency.” Nicholas’s voice was heavy with
irony as he slipped the envelope into his top pocket. “I presume this
was Dr Al Simma’s suggestion?”
“Of course,” beamed Abou Sin. “Royan holds you in the very highest
“Does she, now?” Nicholas murmured, still staring at her
“However, this other small token of our appreciation was the suggestion
of the President himself.” The minister snapped his fingers and one of
his secretaries stepped forward with a leather-covered medal case, which
he opened before he isented it to Abou Sin.
re On a bed of red velvet nestled a magnificent decoration, a star
encrusted with seed pearls and tiny pay6 diamonds. In the Centre of the
star was a golden lion rampant.
Abou Sin lifted the star from its case and advanced on Nicholas. “The
Order of the Great Lion of Egypt, First Class, he announced, placing the
scarlet ribbon over his head. The star hung resplendent on Nicholas’s
grubby shirt-front, heavily stained with sweat and dust and Nile mud.
Then the minister stood aside and made a gesture to the army colonel who
was standing to attention at the foot of the ramp. Immediately there was
an orderly rush of uniformed men up the ramp. The detachment of soldiers
obviously had their orders. First they picked up the litters on which
the wounded Ethiopians lay.
“I am glad that your pilot had the good Sense to radio ahead that you
had wounded men on board. Rest assured that they will receive the best
care available,” Atalan Abou Sin promised as they were carried down to
the waiting ambulance.
Then the soldiers returned and began carrying the ammunition cases down
the ramp. They were loaded neatly into the three-tonner. Within ten
minutes Big Dolly’s hold was bare and empty. A tarpaulin cover was roped
down securely over the back of the loaded truck. An escort of heavily
armed motorcyclists fell into formation around it, and then, with sirens
wailing, the little convoy roared away.
“Well, Sir Nicholas.” Abou Sin held out his hand Courteously, and
Nicholas took it with an air of resignation.
am sorry to have taken you out of your way like this. I BMW
know that you will be anxious to continue on your journey, so I will not
detain you further. Is there anything I can do for you before you leave?
Do you have sufficient fueV
Nicholas glanced at Jannie, and he shrugged. “We have plenty of juice,
Thank you, sir.”
Abou Sin turned back to Nicholas, “We are planning to build a special
annexe to the museum at Luxor to house these artefacts of Pharaoh Mamose
that you have returned to Egypt. In due course you will be receiving a
personal slid invitation from President Mubarak to attend, as an
honoured guest, the opening of that museum. Dr Al Simma, whom I am sure
you know has been appointed the new Director of the Department of
Antiquities, will be in charge of the museum. I am sure she will be
delighted to review the exhibits with you when you come back.” He bowed
to Sapper and the two pilots.
“Go with God,” he said, and went down the ramp.
Royan began to follow him, but Nicholas called softly after her.
“Royanl’ She froze, and then turned her head slowly and reluctantly to
meet his eyes for the first time since they hadlanded.
“I didn’t deserve that,” he said, and then with a stab of emotion he
realized that she was weeping softly. Her lips quivered and the tears
ran slowly down her cheeks.
“I am sorry, Nicky,” she whispered, “but you must have known that I am
not a thief. It belongs to Egypt, not to US.”
“So everything that I thought there was between us was a lie?” he
“No!” she said. “I-‘ and then she broke off without finishing what she
was going to say. She ran down the ramp into the sunlight to where the
chauffeur was holding the back door of the limousine open for her. She
slipped on to the seat beside Abou Sin without looking back, and the
Cadillac pulled away and drove through the gate.
“Let’s get the hell out of here, before these Gyppos change their
minds,” said Jannie.
“What a splendid idea,’said Nicholas bitterly.
nce they were airborne again, Aswan Control cleared them for a direct
flight northwards to the Mediterranean coast. The four of them, Jannie
and Fred, Sapper and Nicholas, stayed together on the flight-deck and
watched the long green snake of the Nile crawl along their right
They spoke very little during this long leg of the flight.
Once Jannie said quietly, “So I can kiss my fee goodbye, I suppose?”
“I didn’t really come along for the money,” said Sapper, “but it would
have been nice to be paid. Baby needs new shoes.”
Does anybody want a cup of tea?” Nicholas asked, as though he had not
“That would be nice,” said Jannie. “Not as nice as the sixty grand that
you owe me, but nice anyway.”
They flew over the battlefield of El Alamein, and even from. twenty
thousand feet they could pick out the twin monuments to the Allied and
German dead. Then the blue of the sea stretched ahead of them.
Nicholas waited until the Egyptian coast receded behind them and then he
let out a long, soft sigh.
“, ye of little faith,” he accused them, “\’hen did I ever let you down?
Everybody gets paid in full., They all stared at him long and hard, and
then Jannie voiced their doubts. “How?” he asked.
“Give me a hand, Sapper,” Nicholas invited, and started down the
staircase. Jannie could not control his curiosity and handed over the
controls to Fred. He followed the two Englishmen down to the lavatory on
the main deck.
Sapper and Jannie watched from the doorway as Nicholas took the
Leatherman tool from his pocket and lifted the cover of the chemical
toilet. Jannie grinned as Nicholas started to work on the screws,
holding the hidden panel in place. Big Dolly was a smugglers’ aircraft,
and these little modifications were evidence of the pains that Jannie
and Fred had taken to adapt her to that role. There were a number of
these hidey-holes cunningly uilt into the engine housings and other
parts of the fuselage.
lj When they had flown back from Libya, the Hannibal bronzes had reposed
in the secret compartment behind this panel. The location of the panel
in the back of the toilet made it highly unlikely that any follower of
Islam would want to investigate such an unclean area.
“So that’s what you were doing in here for so long,” Jannie laughed as
Nicholas lifted out the panel. His grin faded as Nicholas reached into
the space beyond and carefully drew out an extraordinary object. “My
God, what is that?”
“The blue war crown of ancient Egypt,” said Nicholas.
He handed it to Sapper. “Lay it on the bunk, but treat it carefully.”
He reached into the compartment again, “And this is the Nemes crown.” He
handed it to Jannie.
“And this is the red and white crown of the two kingdoms. And this is
the death-mask of Pharaoh Mamose.
Last but not least, this is the ushabd of the scribe Taita.” The relics
lay on the fold-down bunk, and they stood and stared at them reverently.
“I have helped you bring out stone friezes and little bronze statues,’
said Jannie softly. “But notlTing like this before.”
“But,” Sapper shook his head, “the ammunition crates the Gyppos
offloaded at Aswan? What was in them?”
“Five one’gallon bottles of chemical for the toilet,” said Nicholas,
“Plus half a dozen spare oxygen cylinders, just to make up weight.”
“You switched them.” Sapper beamed at him. “But how the hell did you
know that Royan was going to scupper us?”
“She was right when she said I must have known she was no thief. The
whole lark was out of character for her.
She is,” he searched for the correct description, ( much too upright and
honest. Not at all like the present company.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” said Jannie drily, “but she must have given
you more reason than that to make you suspicious.”
“Yes, of course.” Nicholas turned to him. “The first real inkling I had
was when we came back from Ethiopia the first time, and she immediately
pushed off to Cairo. I guessed she was up to something. But I was
absolutely certain only when I learned that she had passed a message,
through Tessay, to the Egyptian Embassy in Addis. It was clear then that
she had alerted them to our return flight.”
“The perfidious little bitch,’Jannie guffawed.
“Careful there!” said Nicholas stiffly. “She is a decent, honest and
patriotic young woman, warm-hearted and-‘ “Well, well!” Jannie winked at
Sapper. “Please excuse my slip.”
nly two of the great crowns of ancient Egypt were set out on the
polished walnut conference table. Nicholas had placed them on the heads
of two genuine Roman marble busts that he had borrowed from a dealer
with whom he did regular business here in Zurich. He had drawn the
blinds over the tenth story windows, and arranged the lighting to show
the crowns to the best effect. The private conference room that he had
hired for the occasion was in the Bank Leu building on Bahnhofstrasse.
While he waited alone for the arrival of his invited guest, he reviewed
his preparations and could find no fault with them. He went to the
full-length mirror on one wall and tightened the knot of his old
Sandhurst tie. The stitches had been removed from his chin. Mek Nimmur
had done a first-rate . oh, and the scar was neat and clean.
His suit had been made by his tailor in Savile Row, so it was in a muted
chalk stripe and had been worn enough to have acquired just the right
degree of casual bagginess. The only shiny items of his dress were the
hand-made shoes from Lobb of St. James’s Street.
The intercom buzzed softly and Nicholas lifted the handset.
“There is a Mr Walsh to see you, Sir Nicholas,” said the receptionist at
the desk in the bank lobby downstairs.
“Please ask him to come up.”
Nicholas opened the door at the first ring and Walsh glowered at him
from the threshold.
“I hope you are not wasting my time, Harper. I have flown all the way
from Fort Worth.” It was only thirty hours since Nicholas had telephoned
him at his ranch in Texas.
Walsh must have jumped into his executive jet almost immediately to have
got here so soon.
“Not Harper. Quenton-Harper,’said Nicholas.
“Okay then, Quenton-Harper. But cut the crap,’Walsh said angrily. “What
have you got for me?”
“I am also delighted to see you again, Mr Walsh.” Nicholas stood aside.
“Do come in.”
Walsh strode into the room. He was tall and roundshouldered, his jowls
drooping and wrinkled and his nose beaky. With his hands clasped behind
his back.he looked like a buzzard on a fence pole. Forbes magazine
listed his net worth at 1.7 billion dollars.
Two men followed him into the room, and Nicholas recognized both of
them. The antiquarian world was very small and incestuous. One of them
was the professor of
ancient history at Dallas University. Walsh had endowed the chair. The
other was one of the most respected and knowledgeable antiques dealers
in the United States.
Walsh stopped so suddenly that they both ran into him from behind, but
he did not seem to notice.
“Son of a gun!” he said softly, and his eyes lit with the flames of
fanaticism. “Are those fakes?”
“As fake as the Hannibal bronzes and the Hammurabi has-relief you bought
from me,” said Nicholas.
Walsh approached the exhibits as though they were the cathedral
communion plate and he the archbishop.
“These must be fresh,” he whispered. “Otherwise I would have known about
“Fresh out of the ground,” Nicholas confirmed. “You are the first one to
have seen them.”
“Mamose!” Walsh read the cartouche on the uraeus of the Nemes crown.
“Then the rumours are true. You have opened a new tomb.”
“If you can call nearly four thousand years old new.” Walsh and his
advisers gathered around the table, pale and speechless with shock.
“Leave us, Harper,’said Walsh. “I will call you when I am ready to talk
to you again.”
“Sir Nicholas,” he prompted the American. Nicholas knew that he had the
upper hand now.
“Please leave us, Sir Nicholas,” Walsh pleaded.
An hour later Nicholas sauntered back into the conference room. The
three men were seated around the table as though they could not bear to
be parted from the two great crowns. Walsh nodded at his minions and
they stood up and obediently but reluctantly filed from the room.
As soon as the door closed, Walsh asked brusquely, “How much?”
“Fifteen million US dollars,’Nicholas replied.
“That’s seven and a half mill each.”
“No, that’s fifteen mill each. Thirty million the two’.
Walsh reeled in his chair. “Are you crazy, or something?”
“There are those who think so,’Nicholas smiled.
“Split the difference,” said Walsh. “Twenty-two and a half.”
Nicholas shook his head. “Not negotiable.”
“Be reasonable, Harper!’ “Reasonability has never been one of my vices.
Sorry Walsh stood up. “I am sorry too. Perhaps next time, Harper.”
He clasped his hands behind his back and stalked to the door. As he
opened it, Nicholas called after him.
He turned back eagerly. “Yes?”
“Next time you may call me Nicholas, and I shall call you Peter, as old
“Is that all you have to say?”
“Of course. What else is there?” Nicholas looked puzzled.
“Damn you,” said Walsh, and came back to the table.
He dropped into his chair. “Damn you to hell and back!” He sighed and
pursed his lips, and then asked, “Okay.
How do you want it?”
“Two irrevocable bank drafts. Each for fifteen million.” Walsh picked up
the intercom, and spoke into it.
“Please ask Monsieur Montfleuri, your chief accountant, to come up here”
he ordered dolefully.
Nicholas sat at his desk in his study at Quenton Park. He stared at the
panelling that covered the wall facing him. Although the panelling had
originally come from one of the Catholic abbeys dissolved by Henry VIII
in 1536 and had been bought by his grandfather almost a hundred years
ago, it was newly installed in this setting.
He reached under the top of his desk and pressed the hidden button of
the electronic control. A section of the panelling slid smoothly and
silently aside to reveal the armoured plate glass of the display cabinet
built into the wall behind it. At the same time the spotlights in the
ceiling lit automatically, and their beams fell on the contents of the
cabinet. The spots had been placed so that there was no reflection from
the glass window to distract the eye, and the beams brought out the full
glory of the double crown and the golden death-mask of Mamose.
He poured whisky into a crystal glass, and while he sipped it he
savoured the thrill of ownership. But after a while he knew there was
something missing. He picked up the Taita ushabd from the desk in front
of him, and spoke to it as though he were addressing the subject
“You knew the real meaning of loneliness, didn’t you?” he asked softly.
“You knew what it was like to love someone you could never have.”
He set down the statuette and picked up the telephone. He dialled an
international number and it rang three times before a man answered in
“This is the office of the Director of Antiquities. How may I help you?”
“Is Dr Al Simma available?” he asked in the same language.
“Please hold the line. I am putting you through!
“Dr Al Simma.” Her voice sent an electric thrill down his spine.
“Royan,” he said, and he could sense her shock in the long silence that
“You!” she whispered. 11 did not think I would ever hear from you
“I just rang to congratulate you on your appointment.”
“You cheated me,” she said. “You switched the contents of three of the
“As a wise man once said, friends are the easiest to cheat they don’t
expect it. You, of all people, should know the truth of that, Royan.”
“You have sold them, of course. I have heard a rumour that Peter Walsh
paid twenty million.” 4- “Thirty million,” Nicholas corrected her. “But
only for the blue and the Nemes. Even as I speak to you, the red and
white crown and the death-mask repose before me.”
“So now you can pay off your Lloyd’s insurance losses.
You must be very relieved.”
“You won’t believe this, but the Lloyd’s syndicate on which I am a Name
has come up with much better results than were forecast. I wasn’t really
broke after all.”
“As my mother would say, “Bully for you.”‘ “Half of it has already gone
to Mek Nimmur and Tessay.”
“At least that is a good cause.” Her tone tingled with hostility. “Is
that all you called to tell me?”
“No. There’s something else that might amuse you.
Your favourite author, Wilbur Smith, has agreed to write the story of
our discovery of the tomb. He is calling the book The Seventh ScroU. It
should be published early next year. I will send you a signed copy.”
“I hope he gets his facts straight this time,” she said drily.
They were both silent for a while, before Royan broke it “I have a
mountain of work in front of me. If there is nothing else on your mind-‘
“As a matter of fact there is.”
“I would like you to marry me.”
He heard her draw breath sharply, and then after a long pause she asked
softly, “Why would you want anything so unlikely?”
“Because I have come to realize how much I love you.” She was silent
again, and then she said in a small voice, “All right.”
“What do you mean, “All right’T
“I mean, all right, I will marry you.”
“Why would you agree to anything so unlikely?” he asked.
“Because I have come to realize, despite everything, how much I love you
“There is an Air Egypt flight from Heathrow at 5.30 this afternoon. If I
drive like fury, I may just make it. But it gets me into Cairo rather
“I will be waiting at the airport, no matter how late.”
“I am on my way!” Nicholas hung up, and went to the door, but suddenly
he turned back and picked up the the Taita ushabti from the desk.
“Come on, you old rogue.” He laughed triumphantly.
“You are going home, as a wedding gift.”
which, -in the mauve evening.
They strolled along the corn Below them the Nile ran on eternally green
and slow and inscrutable, disposing of the secrets of the ages. At the
bank, below the ruins of the temple of point on the river once the great
barge of Pharaoh Ramesses at Luxor, where Mamose had docked with Taita
and his beloved mistress upon her prow, they paused for a while and
leaned upon ining wall. They gazed out to the coping of the stone reta
the darkening hills across the river. the funerary temple Time had long
since obliterated other’ kings had and the great causeway of Mamose, and
ver the foundations. No man built their own monuments red the tomb that
he had never occupied, had ever discover ted close to the secret opening
but it must have been situa gh which Duraid Al Simma. had entered in the
rock thrOu ered there the scrolls of Taita the tomb of Lostris and
discover in their alabaster jars.
silent in the gathering dusk, the’
All four of them were firm friendship. They watched a cruise shared
silence the tourists clustered upon boat pass coming upriver wi her
decks, still agog after ten days of voyaging from Cairo on these
enigmatic waters, pointing out to each other the great pylons and
engraved walls of Ramesses temple, their ntial in the hush of th all and
inconseque excited voices sm desert evening slipped her arm through
Tessay’s and Then Royan alked on ahead. They made a lovely pair, the two
women wand honey-skinned, their laughter gay slim and young ads ruffling
in the sultry Puffs Of and sweet, their dark he and Mek immur Saharan
air off the desert. Nichola followed them, each watching his own woman
fondly as they bantered.
“So now you are one of the fatcats, in Addis, you, the hard man, the
bush fighter, you are now a politician. I can hardly believe it, mek.,
“There is a time to fight and a time to make peace.” Mek was serious for
a moment, but Nicholas mocked him ” 11 lightly.
“I see that now that you are a politician you have to practise your
cliches and your platitudes.” Nicholas punched his arm lightly. “But how
did you swing it, Mek?
>From dirty shufta bandit to Minister of Defence in one mighty bound.”
“The money from the sale of the blue crown helped a little. It gave me
the clout I needed,” Mek admitted, “but they knew they could never hold
a democratic election without me as a candidate. In the end they were
eager to have me on board.”
“The only quibble I have with the deal is that you handed all that
lovely hard-won lolly over to them,” Nicholas mourned. “Hell, Mek,
fifteen million iron men don’t come along every day.”
“I didn’t hand it to them,” Mek corrected him. “It was paid into the
state coffers, where I can keep an eye on what eventually happens to it.”
“Still, fifteen mill is a lot of bread,” Nicholas sighed.
“Try as I might, I cannot approve of such extravagance, but I must admit
-Lat I do approve of your choice of running mate in your bid for the
Presidency in the coming elections.”
They both looked at Tessay’s slim back and bush of springing black curls
as she strode along ahead of them on shapely brown legs under the white
“I may not approve of you as Minister of Defence, but I can see that she
makes a very charming Minister of Culture and Tourism in the interim
“She will make an even more impressive Vice-President when we win next
August,” Mek predicted easily, and at that moment Royan looked back over
her shoulder at them.
“We’ll cross the road here,” she called. Nicholas had been so engrossed
that he had not realized they had come up opposite to the new annexe to
the Luxor Museum of Antiquities. The two women waited for them to catch
up and then they separated and each of them took the arm of her own
As they crossed the wide boulevard, threading their way between the slow
clip-clopping horse-drawn gharries, Nicholas leaned down and brushed her
cheek with his lips. “You are really quite delectable, Lady Quenton
“You make me blush, Sir Nicky,” she giggled. “You know that I am still
not used to being called that.”
They reached the other side of the thoroughfare and paused before the
entrance to the museum annexe. The sloping roof was supported by tall
hypostyle columns, miniature copies of those at the temple of Karnak.
The walls were made of massive blocks of yellow sandstone, and the lines
of the building were clean and simple. It was very impressive.
Royan led them to the entrance doors of the museum, which was not yet
open to the public. The President was flying up on Monday for the
official opening, and Mek and Tessay were to be the official
representatives of the Ethiopian government at the opening ceremony. The
guards at the door saluted Royan respectfully and hurried to open the
heavy brass-bound doors to let them pass.
The interior was hushed and cool, the air conditioning arefully
regulated to preserve the ancient exhibits.
The display cases were built into the sandstone walls, and the lighting
was subtle and artful. it showed off the wondrous treasures of the
Mamose funerary hoard to full advantage. The exhibits, arranged in
ascending order of beauty and archaeological importance, sparkled and
glowed in their nests of blue satin, the royal blue of the Pharaoh
The four visitors were quiet and reverential as they passed, their
voices soft and subdued as they asked questions of Royan. Wonder and
amazement held them enthralled. They paused at the entrance of the final
chamber, the one that housed the most extraordinary and valuable items
in this glittering collection.
“To think that this is only a small part of what treasure still remains
in Mamose’s tomb, sealed by the waters of the Dandera river,” whispered
Tessay. “It’s so exciting that I can hardly wait for the adventure to
“I forgot to tell you!” Mek exclaimed, and it was clear from his
triumphant grin that he had not forgotten at all, but had been merely
waiting for the appropriate moment to impart his news. “The Smithsonian
have confirmed their grant to redarn the Dandera and reopen the tomb. It
will be a joint venture between the Institution and the governments of
our two countries, Egypt and Ethiopia.”
“That is wonderful news,” Royan exclaimed delightedly.
“The tomb itself will be one of the great archaeological sites of the
world, and a huge source of tourist revenue for Ethiopia-‘
“Not so fast,” Mek interrupted her. “There is one condition that they
Royan looked crestfallen. “What is their condition?”
“They insist that you, Royan, take’on the job of director of the
She clapped her hands with delight, and then put on a mock-serious
expression. “However, I have my own condition before I accept,” she
“And what is that?” Mek demanded.
“That I am able to appoint my own assistant on the dig-‘ MW
Mek let out a roar of laughter. “We all know who that will be.” And he
clapped Nicholas on the back. “Just make sure that none of the artefacts
cling to his sticky little fingers!” he warned.
Royan hugged Nicholas around the waist. “He has completely reformed, I
will now give you final proof of that.” Still clinging to her husband,
she led them into the last chamber.
Mek and Tessay stopped in the entrance, silent with awe as they stared
at the contents of the free-standing display case of annoured glass in
the centre of the room, The red and white crown of the united kingdoms
of upper and lower Egypt stood side by side with the glistening golden
death-mask of Pharaoh Mamose in the brilliant light of the overhead
At last Mek Nimmur recovered from the shock.
Advancing slowly to the front panel of the display case, he stooped to
read aloud the brass plate fixed to the front of it: “‘The Permanent
loan of Sir Nicholas and Lady Quenton, Harper.”‘
He turned back to stare at Nicholas incredulously.
“And you were the one who picked on me for turning over the money from
the sale of the blue crown!” he accused him. “How could you bring
yourself to give up your share of the loot, Nicholas?”
“It wasn’t easy,” Nicholas admitted with a sigh, “but I was faced with a
delicate ultimatum from a certain party who is not standing a million
miles away from us at this very moment.”
“Don’t feel too sorry for the poor boy,” Royan laughed.
“He still has a big lump of Peter Walsh’s money tucked away in
Switzerland, the proceeds of the sale of the Nemes crown. I was unable
to talk him into handing everything over.”
“Enough of these public disclosures of my domestic affairs, said
Nicholas firmly. “The sun is long gone, and it’s whisky time. I think I
saw a bottle of Laphroaig behind the bar at the hotel, Let’s go and find
out if I was mistaken.” He took Royan’s arm and led her away, and the
other two followed closely, laughing delightedly at his discomfort.