that they had been alerted and were about to escape.
Yet they were not clear – they were about to catch the peripheral force
of the landslide that was developing above them. Still holding Royan,
Nicholas stared up the falling cliff face and made a desperate
He watched in petrified fascination as the vast tide of falling rock
swept over the trail ahead of him, picking up men and mules and carrying
them with it over the edge and down into the river bed. It swallowed
them, lapping them up like the tongue of some fearsome monster and
chewing them to pulp with razor fangs of red rock. Even above the
rumbling roar of the rock tide he heard the terrified screams of men and
animals as they were ploughed under.
The wave of destruction spread towards where he and Royan stood upon the
trail. If they had been directly under the explosion they would have
stood as little chance as those others, but as it ran down the cliff its
destructive momentum was dissipating. On the other hand, Nicholas
realized that there was no hope that they would be able to outrun it,
and what was about to fall upon them would still be devastating.
There was no time to explain to Royan what they had to do – he had only
seconds left in which to act. Sweeping her up in his arms, he leaped
over the bank towards the river. He lost his footing almost immediately
and they went down together, rolling end over end, but thirty feet down
there was a spur of rock the size of a house. As they came up against
the upper side of it, it broke their fall.
They were half-sturined, but Nicholas dragged Royan to her feet and
guided her into the lee of the rock wall.
“Mere was a cut-back here, and they crept into it and crouched flat.
Pressing themselves hard against the wall, they both held their breath
as the first chunk of cliff came bounding and bouncing down towards them
like a gigantic rubber ball, picking up speed with gravity, until it
smashed in to their shelter with a force that made the solid rock
against which they were cringing vibrate and resound like a cathedral
bell, and the hurtling missile leaped high over their heads, spinning
massively in flight before it dropped into the river. It raised a tidal
wave from the surface that broke like storm surf on both banks.
This was merely the forerunner of the maelstrom that now poured over
them. It seemed that half the mountain was falling upon them. As each
slab crashed into their shelter daggers and splinters burst from its
leading edges, filling the air they breathed with fine white dust and
the sulphurous stink of sparking flint. This immense cascade flew over
their heads or piled up in front of their shelter, and loose chips and
pebbles rained down upon them.
Nicholas crawled over the top of Royan, and covered her with his body. A
stone struck the side of his head a lancing blow that made his ears
ring, but he gritted his teeth and fought the impulse to lift his head
and look up.
He felt something warm and ticklish snaking through the short hairs
behind his right ear. It crept down his cheek like a living thing, and
it was only when it reached the corner of his mouth and he tasted the
metallic salt that he realized it was a trickle of blood.
The fine talcum dust powdered them and irritated their throats, so that
they coughed and choked in the uproar.
The dust seeped into their eyes, and they were forced to clench their
lids and keep them tightly shut.
One mass of rock the size of a wagon sprang high in the air and then
fell back close beside where they lay. The impact made the earth jump so
violently that Royan, with Nicholas’s weight on top of her, was struck
in the belly and diaphragm with a force that drove the wind from her
lungs, and she thought that her ribs had been crushed.
Then gradually the downpouring of earth and rock began to subside. The
breath-stopping impact of great boulders into their shelter became less
frequent: The fine dust they were breathing began to settle. The
rumbling and roaring let up gradually, until the only sound was the slip
and slide of settling earth and rock and the burble of the river below
Warily, Nicholas at last lifted his head and tried to blink the dust off
his eyelashes. Royan stiffed under him, and he crawled back to let her
sit up. They stared at each other. Their faces were caked into kabuki
masks with the antimony-white dust, and their hair was powdered like the
wigs of eighteenth-century French aristocrats.
“You are bleeding,” Royan whispered, her voice husky with dust and
Nicholas lifted his hand to his face and it came away covered with a
paste of dust and blood. “It’s just a nick,” he said. “How are you!’
“I think I may have twisted my knee. I felt something give when we fell.
I don’t think it’s serious. There is very little pain.”
“Men we have both been ridiculously lucky,” he told her. “Nobody
deserved to survive that.”
She made an effort to stand, but he restrained her with a hand on her
shoulder. “Wait! The entire slope above us is broken and unstable. Give
it time. There will be loose rocks coming down for a while yet.” He
untied the Paisley bandana from around his throat and handed it to her.
“Besides which, we don’t want-‘ But he changed his mind and did not
finish his sentence, While she wiped her face she asked shakily, “You
were going to say, besides which-?”
don’t want to give those bastards
“Besides which, we up there any idea that we have survived their little
Otherwise we will have them down here finishing the job, cutting
throats. Much better they believe that we snuffed it, as intended.”
“Do you think- they are still up She stared at him.
there, watching us?”
“Count on it,” he answered grimly. “They must be pretty chuffed with the
fact that they have at last succeeded in getting rid of you. We don’t
want to pop our heads up right now and spoil it for them.”
“How did you know what was going to happen?” she asked. “If you hadn’t
grabbed me-‘ Her voice petered out.
In a few words he explained about the scrap of gelignite wrapping.
“Simplest thing in the world to pick one of the narrowest sections of
the trail and mine the cliff-‘ He broke Off as, faintly but
unmistakably, there came the sound of an aircraft engine and the flutter
of rotors in fully fine pitch for takeoffs
“Quickly,” he snapped at her. “Get in as close as you can to the
overhang.” He pushed her back against the sheltering boulder. “Lie flad’
When she obeyed without question, he lay beside her and piled loose
rubble over them both.
“Lie still. Don’t move, whatever you do.”
They lay and listened to the sound of the helicopter approaching, and
circling overhead. It moved up and down the valley, flying a few feet
above the surface of the river.
At one point it was directly above the ledge on which they lay, and they
were buffeted by the down-draught of the rotors.
“Looking for survivors,” said Nicholas grimly. “Don’t move. They haven’t
spotted us yet.”
“If they were watching us before the blast, they should have been able
to come directly to where we are,” she whispered. They seem confused.”
“They must have lost us in the dust of the avalanche and the break-up of
the cliff face. They aren’t sure where we are lying.” The sound of the
helicopter moved off slowly along the river, and Nicholas told her, “I
am going to risk a peep, to make sure it’s the Pegasus job – not that
there can be many other choppers in this area. Keep your head down!’
He lifted his head slowly and cautiously, and one glance was sufficient
to confirm all his speculations. Half a mile upstream, the Pegasus jet
Ranger hovered over the river. It was moving slowly away from him, so
that from this angle Nicholas was unable to see through the windscreen
into the cockpit. But at that moment the engine beat changed as the
pilot changed pitch and pulled on the collective.
As the aircraft rose vertically and turned northwards, Nicholas caught a
glimpse of the passengers. Jake Helm sat in the front seat beside the
pilot, and Colonel Nogo was in the seat behind him. They were both
staring down into the river valley, but in seconds the helicopter lifted
them away and the machine disappeared beyond the ridge, flying in the
direction of the escarpment, and the sound of its engines dwindled into
silence. Nicholas crawled out from beneath the boulder and pulled Royan
to her feet.
“No more doubts. We know who we are dealing with now. That was Helm and
No in the chopper. Helm 9 almost certainly laid the gelly, and Nogo
probably led the men who hit our camp last night. Each of them doing the
job he does best,” Nicholas told her. “So that confirms it.
Whoever owns Pegasus is the ugly behind all this. Helm and Nogo are
merely the stooges.”
“But Nogo is an officer in the Ethiopian army,” she protested.
“Welcome to Africa.” He did not smile as he said it.
“Here everything is for sale at a price, including government officials
and army officers.” Now he scowled so that the caked dust on his face
was dislodged and filtered down in a fine powdering. “Now, however, our
main concern is to get out of the gorge and back to civilization.”
He looked up the slope. The trail above them had been obliterated
beneath the rock fall. “We can’t get back that way,” he told her, and
took her hand. But when he lifted her to her feet she gasped and quickly
shifted her weight to her right leg.
My knee!” Then she smiled bravely. “It will be all right.)
However, she was limping heavily as they scrambled down to the rivet,
terrified that their movements would set off another rock slide. They
ended up waist’deep in the water under the bank.
Royan stood behind Nicholas and washed the blood and dust from the wound
in his scalp. “Not too bad,” she told him. “Doesn’t need a stitch.”
“I have a tube of Betadyne in my pack,” he said. He fished it out, and
she smeared the wound with the yellow brown ointment before binding it
up with the Paisley bandana.
“That will do.” She patted his shoulder.
“Thank the Lord for my burn-bag,’Nicholas remarked as he zipped it
closed. “At least we have a few essentials with us. Now our next job is
to look for any other survivors.”
They floundered along the bank. The river was clogged with loose rock
and earth that had fallen from the cliff. In the deeper places they were
forced in up to their armpits, and Nicholas carried his pack at arm’s
length above his head. The loose rock was treacherous, and gave way
under them when they tried to scramble out of the water to search for
the other members of the caravan.
They found the bodies of two of the monks, both of them crushed and
half-buried. They did not even attempt to dig them free. One of the
mules lay with one leg in the air and the rest of its body completely
covered with broken rock. The pack that it had carried had burst open
and the contents were scattered about. The rolled skin and trophies of
the dik-dik had been churned into the muck. Nicholas rescued them and
strapped them on to his burn-bag.
“More to carry,’Royan warned him.
“Only a pound or two, but worth it,” he replied.
They made their way towards the point below the itail where they had
last seen Tamre and Aly. But though they searched for almost an hour
they found no sign of either of them. The slope above them was
devastated: raw ravaged earth, great rocks shattered, bushes and trees
uprooted and smashed to kindling.
Royan climbed as high as her injured leg enabled her, then cupped her
hands around her mbuth and shouted, “Tamre I Tamre! Tamre!” The echoes
took her cry and flung it from’ all to valley wall.
“I think he is done for. The poor little devil has been buried,’
Nicholas called up to her. “We have been at it an hour now. We cannot
afford more time, if we are to get out ourselves. We will have to leave
She ignored him and worked her way along the rockslide, loose scree
rolling under her feet, and he could see that the knee was giving her
“Tamre! Answer me,” she called in Arabic. “Tamre!
Where are you?”
“Royan! That’s enough. You are going to damage that knee even more. You
are putting both of us at risk now.
Give it up!’
At that moment they both heard a soft groan from higher up the slope.
Royan scrambled up towards the sound, slipping and sliding back almost
as far as she climbed, but at last she gave a cry of horror. Nicholas
dumped his pack and went up after her. When he reached her side, he too
dropped to his knees.
Tam-re was pinned down in the rubble. His face was barely recognizable.
It was torn and lacerated, with half the skin ripped off. Royan had
lifted his head into her lap, and was using her sleeve to wipe the filth
out of his nostrils to allow him to breathe more freely. Blood was
oozing from the corner of his mouth, and when he groaned again it welled
up in a fresh flood. Royan dabbed at it, smearing it across his chin.
His lower body was buried, and Nicholas tried to clear the broken rock;
but almost immediately he realized the futility of it. A lump of raw
rock the size of a billiard table lay across him. It weighed many tons,
and must certainly have crushed his spine and pelvis. No single man
would be able to move that massive weight unaided. Even if it were
ossible, the grinding action of any movement would inevitably aggravate
the terrible injuries that Tamre had already sustained.
“Do something, icky,” Royan whispered. “We have to do something for
Nicholas looked at her and shook his head. Royan’s eyes flooded with
tears, and they broke over her lower lids and scattered like raindrops
into Tamre’s upturned face, diluting the blood to the pink of ros6 wine.
“We can’t just sit here and let him die,” she Protested, and at the
sound of her voice Tamre opened his eyes and looked into her face.
He smiled through the blood, and that smile lit his dusty, broken face.
“Ummee!” he whispered. “You are my mother. You are so kind. I love you,
The words were bitten off and a spasm stiffened his body. His face
contorted with agony and he gave a soft, strangled cry, and then
slumped. The rigidity went out of his shoulders and his head rolled to
Royan sat for long time holding his head and weeping softly, but
bitterly, until Nicholas touched her hand and said EentIv. “He is dead,
She nodded. “I know. He held on just long enough to say goodbye to me.”
He let her mourn a little longer, and then he told her softly, “We must
go, my dear.”
“You are right. But it is so hard to leave him here. He never had
anybody. He was so alone. He called me mother.
I think he truly loved me.”
“I know he did,” Nicholas assured her, lifting the boy’s dead head from
her lap and helping her to her feet. “Go wait for me. I will cover him
the best I can.” down an Nicholas crossed Tamre’s hands upon his chest,
and folded his fingers around the silver crucifix that hung around his
neck. Then he piled loose rock carefully over him, covering his head so
that the crows and vultures could not reach him.
He slid down to where she waited in the water, and slung his pack over
“We must go on,” he told Royan.
She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand and nodded. “I am
They waded upstream, pushing hard against the current. The rock-slide
had blocked half the river bed and the waters squeezed through the gap
that was left. When at last they reached the point on the bank above the
avalanche, they climbed out of the river and picked their way up the
steep bank until at last they could crawl out on to the intact section
of the pathway.
They took a moment to recover and looked back. The river below the
rock-slide was running red-brown with mud. Even if the monks at the
monastery downstream had not heard the explosions, they would be alarmed
by that flood of discoloured water and would come to investigate.
They would find the bodies and take them down for decent burial. That
thought comforted Royan a little as they struck out along the trail,
with two days’ hard travel still ahead of them.
Royan was limping heavily now, but each time Nichoto help her she
brushed his hand away. “I am all right. It’s just a bit stiff.” She
would not allow him to inspect the knee, but kept on stubbornly along
the trail ahead of him.
They marched mostly in silence for the rest of that day. Nicholas
respected her grief and was grateful for her reticence. This ability to
be quiet and yet not give out a sense of alienation and withdrawal to
those around her was one of the qualities he admired in her. They spoke
briefly late that afternoon while they paused to rest beside the path.
“The only consolation is that now Pegasus will believe that we are
safely buried under the rock-slide and they won’t bother to come looking
for us again. We can push on without wasting time scouting the trail
ahead,” Nicholas told her.
They camped that night below the escarpment, just before the path began
the climb up the vertical wall.
Nicholas led her well off the path, into a heavily wooded gully, and
built a small screened fire that could not be seen from the trail.
Here at last she relented and allowed him to examine her knee. It was
bruised and swollen, and hot to the touch.
“You shouldn’t be walking on this,” he told her.
“Do I have any option?” she asked, and he had no reply. He wetted his
bandana from the water bottle and bound up her leg As tightly as he
dared without cutting Off the circulation. Then he found a phial of
Brufen in his burn-bag and made her take two of these anti,
“It feels better already,” she told him.
They shared the last bar of survival -rations from his pack, sitting
hunched up over the fire and talking quietly, still subdued and shaken
by their experiences.
“What will happen when we reach the top?” Royan asked. “Will the trucks
still be parked where we left them?
Will the men that Boris left to guard them still be there?
What will happen if we run into the men from Pegasus again?”
“I can’t give you any answers. We will just have to face each problem as
it comes up.”
“One thing I am looking forward to when we reach Addis Ababa – reporting
the massacre of Tamre and the others to the Ethiopian police. I want
Helm and his gang to pay for what they have done.”
He was quiet for a while before he replied. “I don’t know if that is the
wisest thing to do,” he ventured at last.
“What do you mean? We. were witnesses to murder.
We cannot let them get away with it.”
“Just remember that we want to return to Ethiopia. If we make a huge
fuss now, we will have the entire valley swarming with troops and
police. It may put an end to our further attempts to solve Taita’s
riddle, and to trace the tomb of Marnose.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” she said thoughtfully. “But still, it was
murder, and Tamre-‘
“I know, I know,” he soothed her. “But there are more certain ways of
wreaking vengeance on Pegasus than trying to turn them over to Ethiopian
justice. Consider for the moment the fact that Nogo is working with
Helm. We saw him in the helicopter. If Pegasus have an army colonel in
their pay, who else is working for them? The police? The head of the
army? Members of the cabinet? We just don’t know at this stage.”
“I hadn’t thought about that either,” she admitted.
“Let’s begin to think African from here on, and take a leaf out of
Taita’s scrolls. Like him we must be devious and cunning. We don’t go
rushing in shouting accusations. If we could just sneak out of the
country, leaving everybody to believe that we are buried under the
avalanche, that might be ideal. It would make our return to the gorge
that much easier. Unfortunately I don’t think we will be able to get
away with that. But from now on, we should be as cagey and careful as
She stared into the dancing flames for a long while, then sighed and
asked, “You said there is a better vengeance to he had on Pegasus. What
did you have in mind?”
“Why, simply whisking Marnose’s treasure out from under their noses.”
She laughed for the first time that long cruel day. “You are right, of
course. Whoever owns Pegasus wants it desperately enough to kill for it.
We must hope that depriving him of it will hurt him almost as badly as
he has hurt us.”
Both of them were so tired that it was already half-light’when they woke
the next morning.
As soon as Royan tried to stand she groaned and sank back. He went to
her immediately, and she made no protest when he placed her bare leg
across his lap.
He unwrapped the bandana, and frowned as he saw the knee. It was nearly
twice its normal girth, and the bruising was plum and ripe grape. He wet
the bandana again, and rewrapped the knee. He made her take the last two
Brufen from the phial, and then helped her to her feet.
“How does it feel?” he asked anxiously, and she hobbled a few paces and
smiled at him bravely.
“It will be all right as soon as I walk the stiffness out of it, I’
He looked up the escarpment. So close in under the wall, the height was
foreshortened, but he recalled every tortuous step of the way. It had
taken them a full day to come down.
“Of course it will.” He smiled encouragement at her, and took her arm.
“Lean on me. It’ll be a stroll in the park.
They toiled upwards all that morning. The trail seemed to rise more
steeply with every pace they took. She never complained, but she was
ashen pate and sweating with the pain. By midday they had not yet
reached the waterfall, and Nicholas made her stop to rest. They had
nothing to eat, but she drank thirstily from the water bottle. He did
not try to ration her, but limited himself to a single mouthful.
When she tried to rise, and go on, she gasped and staggered so violently
that she might have fallen if he had not steadied her.
“Damn! Damn! Damn!” she swore bitterly. “It’s stiffened up on me.”
“Never mind,” he said cheerfully, and stripped his bumbag of all but the
most crucial items of equipment. He kept the dik-dik skin, however,
rolling it into a tight ball and stuffing it into the bag. Then he
rebuckled it around his waist, and grinned at her cheerfully. “Skinny
little thing like you. Hop on my back.”
“You can’t carry me up there.” She looked up the trail, steep as a
ladderway, and was aghast.
“It’s the only train leaving from this station,” he told her, and
offered her his back. She crawled up on to’ it.
“Don’t you think you should dump the dik-dik skin?” she asked.
“Perish the thought!” he said, and started up.
It was slow and heavy-going. After a while he had nothing left over for
talking, and he trudge’ upwards in dogged silence. Sweat drenched his
shirt, but she found neither the wet warmth of it that permeated her
blouse on to her own skin, nor the strong masculine odour of it
offensive. Instead, it was comforting and reassuring.
Every half hour he stopped until his breathing became regular and even
again. Then he opened his eyes and grinned at her.
“Hi ho, Silver!” He pushed himself to his feet, and bowed his back for
her to scramble aboard.
As the day wore on, his jokes became more forced and feeble. By late
afternoon the pace was down to an exhausted plod, and at the more
difficult places he had to pause and gather himself before stepping up.
She tried to help him by climbing down from his back, and supporting
herself on his shoulder as they struggled over the more arduous pitches,
but even with this respite she knew that he was burning up the very last
of his strength.
Neither of them could truly credit their achievement when they reeled
around another corner of the track and saw before them the waterfall,
spilling down like a white lacy curtain across the trail. Nicholas
staggered into the cavern behind the sheet of falling water and lowered
her to the floor. Then he collapsed and lay like a dead man.
It was dark when he had at last recovered sufficiently to open his eyes
and sit up. While he was resting Royan had gathered’some wood from the
monks’ stockpile and managed to get a small fire going.
“Good girl,” he told her. “If ever you want a job as a housekeeper-
“Don’t tempt me.” She hobbled over to him, and examined the cut in his
scalp. “Nice healthy scab,” she told him, and then suddenly and
impulsively she hugged his head to her bosom and stroked his dusty,
sweat-stiff hair off his forehead.
“Oh, Nicky! How can I ever repay you for what you did for me today?”
A flippant reply rose to his lips, but even in his weakened state he had
the good sense to bite it back. He was in no state to attempt any
further intimacy. So he lay in her embrace, enjoying the feel of her
body against his, but not taking the risk of scaring her off with a move
of his own.
At last she released him gently, and sat back. “I very much regret, sir,
that the housekeeper cannot offer you smoked salmon and champagne for
your dinner. How about a mug of mountain water, pure and nourishing?”
“I think we can do better than that.” He took the drycell torch from his
burn’bag, and by its beam selected a round, fist-sized stone from the
floor of the cavern. With this in his right hand he turned the light
upwards, and played it over the cavern roof. Immediately there was a
rustling of wings and the alarmed cooing of the rock pigeons that were
roosting on the ledges. Nicholas manoeuvred into position below them,
dazzling them with the torch beam.
With his first throw he brought down a brace of them, fluttering and
squawking to the cavern floor, while the rest of the flock exploded out
into the night in a great clattering uproar of frantic wings. Nicholas
pounced on the downed birds and with a practised flick of the wrist
wrung their necks.
“How do you fancy a juicy slice of roast pigeon?” he asked her.
She lay propped on one elbow, and he sat cross-legged facing her, each
of them plucking the vinous-maroon and grey feathers from one of the
pigeon carcasses. Even when it came to drawing the bird, she was not
squeamish, as many other women might have been faced with the same task.
This, together with her stoical performance during the day’s struggle up
the mountain, enhanced his opinion of her. She had repeatedly proved to
him how game and plucky she was. His feelings towards her were
strengthening and maturing every day.
Concentrating on removing the fine bristles from the puckered breast
skin of the bird, she said, “It is beyond all doubt now that the
material stolen in the raid on our camp is in Pegasus hands.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Nicholas nodded, “and we know from the
antennae at their base camp above the falls that they have satellite
communications. We can place a pretty certain bet that Jake Helm has
already telefaxed it through to the big man, whoever he may be.”
“So he has all the details of the stele in Tanus’s tomb.
We know that he already has the seventh scroll in his possession. If he
isn’t an expert Egyptologist himself, he must have somebody in his pay
who is. Wouldn’t you agree with that?”
I would guess that he can read hieroglyphics himself.
I would think that he must be an avid collector. I know the type. It is
an obsession with them.”
“I know the type as well.” She smiled at him. “There is one sitting not
a thousand miles away from me at this very moment.”
“ToucV’ he laughed, and held up his hands in surrender. “But I have only
been lightly bitten by the bug, compared to others I could name. Those
other two on Duraid’s list, for instance.”
“Peter Walsh and Gotthold von Schiller,” she reeled off the names.
“Those two are homicidal collectors,,” he confirmed. “I -am sure neither
of them would hesitate to kill for the chance of having Pharaoh Mamose’s
treasure to themselves.”
“But from what I know about them, both of them are billionaires, at
least in dollar terms.”
“Money has nothing to do with it, don’t you see. If they laid hands upon
it, they would never ever dream of selling a single artefact from the
hoard. They would lock it all away in some deep vault, and not let
another living soul la eyes upon it. They would gloat on it in private –
it’s a bizarre, masturbatory passion.”
“What an odd word to describe it,” she protested.
“But accurate, I assure you. It’s a sexual thing a compulsion, like that
of a serial killer.”
“I love all things Egyptian, but I don’t think I can even imagine a
craving that intense.”
“You must remember that these are not ordinary men whom we are
considering. Their wealth allows’them to pander to any appetite’. All
the normal, natural human appetites soon become jaded and satiated. They
can have anything they want. Any man or any woman. Any thing, any
perversion, whether legal or not. In the end they have to find something
that no one else can ever have. It’s the only thing that can still give
them the old thrill.”
“So in whoever is behind Pegasus we are dealing with a madman?” she
“Much more than that,” he corrected her. “We are enormously wealthy and
powerful dealing with an maniac, who in his disease will stop at
They picked the cold carcasses of the roasted pigeons for their
breakfast. Then, while the other one tactfully went to the back of the
cavern an averted his or her gaze, they took turns to strip naked and
bathe under the waterfall.
After the heat of the gorge the water was icy cold. It battered them
with the force of a fire hose. Royan hopped on her good leg, gasping and
whimpering under the torrent, and emerged covered in goose-pimples and
shuddering blue with cold. However, it refreshed her, and even in her
filthy, sweat-stinking clothes it gave her heart to start out on the
last bitter climb to the summit.
Before leaving the cavern they examined each other’s injuries again.
Nicholas’s scalp wound was heating cleanly, but Royan’s knee was no
better than the previous day. The bruises were starting to turn a
virulent puce, the colour of decomposing liver, and the swelling was
unabated. There was very little he could do for it, other than strapping
it again with the bandana.
At last Nicholas admitted defeat, and abandoned his burn-bag and the
roll of dik’dik skin. He knew that he was reaching the limit of his
physical reserves, and he realized that, light as these items were,
every extra pound that he carried today might mean the difference
between reaching the summit or breaking down on the trail. He retained
only the three rolls of undeveloped film, each in its plastic capsule.
These were their only record of the hieroglyphics’ on the stele in
Tanus’s tomb. He dared not risk losing them, so he buttoned them into
the breast pocket of his khaki shirt. He tucked both the bag and the
skin into a crack in the wall at the back of the cavern, determined to
retrieve them at some later date.
And so they started out on the last but most onerous leg of the trail.
To begin with Royan was on her own two feet, but leaning heavily on his
shoulder. However, before the first hour was over her knee could no
longer take the strain, and she subsided on to a rock on the edge of the
“I am being an awful nuisance, aren’t I?
“Come on board, lady. Always room for a small one.” With Royan perched
on Nicholas’s back, her injured leg sticking out stiffly in front of
her, they toiled upwards, but their progress was even slower than it had
been the day before. Nicholas was forced to pause and rest at shorter
and shorter intervals. On the easier pitches she dismounted and hopped
along on one leg beside him, steadying herself with one hand on his
shoulder. Then she would collapse, and he had to lift her to her feet
and pull her up on to his back once again.
The journey descended into nightmare, and both of them lost all sense of
the passage of time. Hours blended with hours into a single unremitting
agony. At one stage they lay beside each other on the path, sick and
nauseated with thirst and exhaustion and pain. They had emptied the
water bottle an hour ago, and there was no more on this section of the
path – nothing to drink until they reached the summit and were reunited
with the Dandera river.
“Go on and leave me here, she whispered hoarsely.
He sat up immediately and stared at her. “Don’t be silly. I need you for
“It can’t be much further to the top,” she insisted. “You can come back
with some of Boris’s men to help carry me.”
“If they are still there, and if Pegasus doesn’t find you first.” He
stood up a little unsteadily. “Forget it. You are coming along on this
ride, all the way.”And he hoisted her to her feet.
He made her count aloud every step he took, and at every hundredth he
paused and rested. Then he started the next hundred, with her counting
softly in his ear, clinging with both arms around his neck. The whole
universe seemed to shrink in upon them to the ground directly at his
feet. They no longer saw the rock cliff on one side nor the deep void of
space on the other. When he lurched or jolted her and the pain shot
through her knee, she closed her eyes and tried not to let her voice
betray it to him as she kept counting.
When he rested, he had to lean against the cliff face, not trusting his
legs to get him up again if he lay down. He dared not lower her to the
ground. The effort of lifting her again would be too much. He no longer
had the strength for it.
“It’s almost dark,” she whispered in his ear. “You must stop here for
the night. It’s enough for one day. You are killing yourself, Nicky.”
“Another hundred, he mumbled.
“No, Nicky. Put me down!’
For answer he pushed off from the rock wall with his shoulder and
staggered on upwards.
“Cound’ he ordered.
“Fifty-one, fifty-two,” she obeyed. Suddenly the gradient altered so
sharply under his feet that he almost fell.
The path had levelled out, and like a drunkard he reached up for a step
that wasn’t there.
He staggered and then caught his balance. He stood teetering on the
brink of the precipice and peered into the dusk ahead of him, at first
unable to credit what he was seeing. There were lights in the gloom, and
he thought that he had begun to hallucinate. Then he heard men’s voices,
and he shook his head to clear it and bring himself back to reality.
“Oh, dear God. You have made it. We are at the top$ Nicky. There are the
vehicles. You did it, Nicky. You did it.
He tried to speak, but his throat had closed up and no words came. He
reeled forward towards the lights, and Royan cried out weakly on his
“Help us here. Please help us.” First in English and then in Arabic.
“Please help us.”
There were startled cries and the sounds of running men. Nicholas sank
down slowly into the fine highland grass and let Royan slide off his
back. Dark figures gathered around them, chattering in Amharic, and
friendly hands seized them and half-carried, half-dragged them towards
the lights. Then a torch was shone into Nicholas’s face and a very
English voice said, “Hello, Nicky. Nice surprise. I came down from Addis
to look for your corpse. Heard you were dead. Bit premature, what?”
“Hello, Geoffrey. Good of you to take the trouble.”
“I dare say you could use a cup of tea. You look a bit done in,” said
Geoffrey Tennant. “Never realized that your beard had ginger and grey
bits in it. Designer stubble.
Fashionable. Suits you actually.”
Nicholas realized what a picture he must present, ragged and unshaven,
filthy and haggard with exhaustion.
“You remember Dr Al Simma? She has a bit of a dicky knee. Wonder if you
would mind taking care of her?”
Then his legs gave way under him, and Geoffrey Tennant caught him before
“Steady on, old boy.” He led him to a canvas-backed camp chair, and
seated him solicitously. Another chair was brought for Royan.
“Letta chai hqPa!” Geoffrey gave the universal call of an Englishman in
Africa, and minutes later thrust mugs of steaming over-sweetened tea
into their hands.
Nicholas saluted Royan with his mug. “Here’s to us.
There’s none like us!’
They both drank deeply, scalding their tongues, but the caffeine and
sugar hit their bloodstreams like a charge of electricity.
“Now I know I am going to live,’Nicholas sighed.
“Don’t want to be pushy, Nicky, but do you mind telling me what the hell
is going on here?” Geoffrey asked.
“Why don’t you tell me?” Nicholas countered. He needed time to evaluate
the situation. What did Geoffrey know and who had told him? Geoffrey
“First thing we heard was that white hunter chappie of yours, Boris, had
been fished out of the river near the Sudanese border, absolutely
riddled with bullet holes. The crocs and catfish had snacked on his
face, so the border police identified him by the documents in his money
Nicholas glanced across at Royan and cautioned her with a frown.
“Last time we saw him, he went off on a scouting expedition onhis own,’
Nicholas explained. “He probably ran into the same bunch of shufta who
raided our camp four nights ago.”
“Yes, we heard about that too. Colonel Nogo here radioed in a report to
Neither of them had recognized Nogo in the crowd of men. It was only
when he stepped forward into the light of the camp lanterns that Royan
stiffened, and such an expression of loathing flashed across her face
that Nicholas reached across surreptitiously and took her hand to
restrain her from any indiscretion. After a moment she relaxed and
composed her features.
“I am very relieved to see you, Sir Quenton-Harper.
You have given us all a very worrying few days,” said Nogo.
“I do apologize,” said Nicholas smoothly.
Please, sir, I meant no offence. It is just that we had a report from
the Pegasus Exploration Company that you and Dr Al Simma had been caught
up in a blasting accident. I was present when Mr Helm of the exploration
company warned you that they were conducting blasting in the gorge.”
“But you-‘ Royan flared bitterly, and Nicholas squeezed her hand hard to
stop her going on.
It was probably our own carelessness, as you suggest.
Nevertheless, Dr Al Simma has been injured and we are I both badly
shaken up by the accident. More important than that, however, is the
fact that a number of other people, camp’staff and monks from the
monastery have been killed in the shufta raid and in the blasting
As soon as we get back to Addis I will make a full statement to the
“I do hope that you don’t think any blame attaches Nogo started, but
Nicholas cut him short.
“Of course not. Not your fault at all. You warned us about the danger of
shufta in the gorge. You were not present, so what could you have done
to prevent any of this? I would say that you have done your duty in the
most exemplary fashion.”
Nogo looked relieved. “You are most gracious to say so, Sir
Nicholas studied him for a moment longer. He seemed the most amiable of
young men behind the metal-rimmed spectacles, so concerned and eager to
please. For a moment Nicholas almost believed that he had been mistaken,
and that it had been somebody else that he had seen in the jet Ranger,
hovering over the avalanche site like a vulture searching for their dead
Nicholas forced himself to smile in his most friendly manner. “I would
be most grateful if you could do me a favour, Colonel.”
“Of course,’Nogo agreed readily. “Anything at all.”
“I left a bag and one of my hunting trophies in the cavern under the
Dandera waterfall. The bag contains our passports and travellers’
cheques. Very grateful if you could send one of your men down to bring
it up for me.”
While giving Nogo directions on how to find his possessions, he derived
a perverse enjoyment from sending his would-be assassin on such a
trivial errand. Then he turned back to his friend so that Nogo would not
pick up the vindictive glint in his eyes. “How did you get here,
“Light plane to Debra Maryam. There is an emergency landing field there.
Colonel Nogo met us, and brought us -the rest of the way by army jeep,”
Geoffrey explained. “The pilot and the aircraft are waiting for us at
Geoffrey broke off and spoke to the camp staff in execrable Amharic,
before turning back to Nicholas. “I have just arranged a hot bath for
you and Dr Al Simma.
After that, a meal and a good night’s sleep should work wonders.
Tomorrow we can fly back to Addis. No reason why we shouldn’t be there
by tomorrow evening at the latest.”
He patted Royan’s shoulder, disguising his carnal interest in her behind
a benign avuncular smile. “I must say I am rather pleased not to have to
go traipsing down into the Abbay gorge looking for the pair of you. I
hear that it’s a pretty beastly part of the world.”
explained to chase the goats off the emergency airfield at Debra Maryam.
In the meantime Nicholas was stuffing the roll of dik-dik skin under the
rear passenger seat. One of Nogo’s sergeants you mind, Dr Al Simma, if
I sit in front?
Terribly rude of me, but I am inclined to suffer from malde air. Ha ha!”
Geoffrey Royan as they waited for three small boys to had made a night
descent of the escarpment, and had delivered both his bag and the skin
while they were breakfasting that morning.
Nogo gave them a smart salute as they taxied out in a cloud of dust.
Nicholas waved and smiled at him through the side window, murmuring,
“Screw you, Nogo, screw you very much indeed.”
When at last the pilot lifted the little Cessna 260 off the rough grass
strip, the horizon over the Abbay gorge resembled a field of cosmic
mushrooms, vast thunderheads reaching up into the stratosphere. The air
beneath them i was turbulent as a storm sea and they were thrown about
mercilessly in the rear seats. Up in front Geoffrey seemed to be faring
no better. He was very quiet and took no interest in their conversation.
There had been no opportunity for them to talk privately the previous
evening, what with either Geoffrey or Nogo hovering within earshot at
all times. Now with their heads close together, the engine beat covering
their voices and Geoffrey occupied with his own queasy thoughts, they
were able to concoct their story.
Geoffrey had made it clear that the British Ambassador in Addis was less
than delighted with the inconvenience they had caused him. Apparently
there had been a string of faxes from Whitehall since they had been
reported missing. Added to that, the Ethiopian Commissioner of Police
was anxious to question them. They had to make sure that they did not
implicate Mek Nimmur in the killing of Boris Brusilov, and at the same
time they must not alert or alarm Pegasus in any way. They realized that
the reaction from that quarter would be swift and probably lethal if
they gave the least suspicion that they knew who the other players were
in Taita’s game.
Most of all they must avoid antagonizing the Ethiopian authorities, or
give them any cause to cancel their visas and declare them to be
undesirable immigrants. They agreed to feign ignorance and play the role
of innocents caught up in affairs which they had not precipitated and
which they did not understand.
By the time that they landed at Addis Ababa they had prepared their
story and rehearsed it thoroughly. As soon as the Cessna pulled on to
the hardstand in front of the airport buildings and the pilot cut the
engine, Geoffrey came back to life again, only a little green around the
gills, and handed Royan down the aircraft steps with a flourish.
“Of course, you will stay at the residence,” he told them. “The hotels
in town are too dreadful to contemplate, and HE has a half-decent chef
and a passable wine cellar. I will rustle up some togs for both of you.
My missus is about the same size as you, Dr Al Simma, and Nicky will fit
into my gear at a pinch. Thank God, I have a spare dinner jacket. HE is
a bit of a stickler for form.”
The British Ambassador’s residence had been built during the reign of
the old Emperor, Haile Selassie, before Mussolini’s invasion in the
1930s. Set on the outskirts of the town, it was an example of the better
colonial architecture, with a thatched roof and wide verandas. The
lawns, tended by. a host of gardeners, were wide and green, contrasting
with the brilliant crimson of the poinsettia. The mansion had survived
both the revolution and the war of liberation that followed.
At the front entrance Geoffrey handed them over to an Ethiopian butler
in a long, spotlessly white shamnw, who showed them to adjoining
bedrooms on the second floor. Nicholas heard the bathwater running in
Royan’s suite next door as he lay in his own brimming bath, sipping a
whisky and soda and twiddling the taps with his big toe.
Then there was the murmur of the doctor’s voice from next door as he
attended to Royan’s knee.
Geoffrey’s dinner jacket was loose round his waist and too short in the
arms and legs, and his shoes pinched, added to which Nicholas was in
need of a haircut, he realized, as he surveyed himself in the mirror.
“No help for it, now, he decided with resignation, and went to knock on
“I say!” he exclaimed as she opened it. Sylvia Tennant had loaned her a
lime’green cocktail dress that set off Royan’s olive skin marvellously
well, Royan had washed her hair and left it loose on her shoulders. He
felt his pulse accelerate like a teenager on his first date, and laughed
“You look absolutely scrumptious,” he told her, and meant it.
“Thank you, sir,” she laughed back at him, “and you look very dashing
yourself May I take your arm?”
“I was hoping to carry you. Addictive activity.”
“Those days are over,” she told him, and brandished the carved ebony
walking-stick with which the butler had provided her. She used it on her
bad side. As they started down the long corridor, she asked in a
whisper, “What is the name of our host?”
“Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador, Sir Oliver Bradford KCMG.”
“Which stands for Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George,
right?” she asked.
“No,” he corrected her, “it stands for Kindly Call Me God.”
“You are impossible!” She giggled, and then became serious. “Did you
manage to send-the fax to Mrs. Street?”
“It went through at the first attempt and she acknowledged. Sends you
her salaams, and promises to have some information about Pegasus double
pronto.” It was a mild evening and Sir Oliver was waiting to greet them
on the veranda. Geoffrey hurried forward to make the introductions. The
Ambassadot-bad a bush of white hair and a red face. Geoffrey had warned
them about him and his view on troublesome tourists, but his hostile
frown started to fade as soon as he laid eyes on Royan.
There were a dozen other guests for dinner apart from Geoffrey and
Sylvia Tennant, and Sir Oliver took Royan’s arm and led her around the
group introducing her. Nicholas trailed along behind them, resigned by
now to the fact that Royan had that effect on most men.
“May I present General Obeid, the Commissioner of Police,” Sir Oliver
said. The head of the Ethiopian police force was tall and very
dark-complexioned, suave and elegant in his blue mess uniform. He bowed
over Royan’s hand.
believe that we have an appointment to meet tomorrow morning. I look
forward to that with the keenest pleasure.”
Royan glanced at Sir Oliver uncertainly. She had been told nothing of
“General Obeid wants to know from you and Sir Nichola a little more
about this business in, the Abbay gorge,” Sir Oliver explained. “I took
the liberty of having my secretary make the appointment.”
“Just a routine interview, I assure you both, Dr Al Simma and Sir
Nicholas. I will take up very little of your time, I promise you that.”
“Of course we will do everything that we can to assist you” Nicholas
told him politely. “What time are we coming to see you?”
“I believe we are meeting at eleven in the morning, if that suits you.”
“A most civilized hour,’Nicholas agreed.
“My driver will pick you up at ten-thirty, and take you down to police
headquarters,” Sir Oliver promised.
At the dinner table Royan was seated between Sir Oliver and General
Obeid. She was pretty and charming, and both men were attentive.
Nicholas realized that he would have to become accustomed to sharing her
company with other men; he had had her to himself for much too long.
For his own part, Nicholas found Lady Bradford at the other end of the
table rather heavy-going. She was a second wife, thirty years younger
than her husband, with a pronounced London accent and an even more
pronounced common streak, with a mane of dyed blonde hair and an
improbable bust which overflowed her sequined cleavage.
An old man’s folly, Nicholas concluded. It appeared that she had made
herself an expert on the genealogy of the English aristocracy – in other
words she was an arrant snob.
She questioned him closely on his antecedents, insisting on going back
In the end she called to her husband down the table, “Sir Nicholas owns
Quenton Park. Did you know that, dear?” And then she turned back to
Nicholas. “My husband is a very keen shot.”
Sir Oliver looked suitably impressed by his wife’s intelligence.
“Quenton Park, hey? I read an article in the Shooting Times the other
day. You have a drive there called the “High Beeches”. Is that right?”
“The “High Larches”,’Nicholas corrected him.
“Some of the best birds in Britain. That’s what they said,” Sir Oliver
enthused, looking eager and expectant.
“I don’t know about that,’Nicholas protested modestly.
“But we are rather proud of them. You must come and have a shot at them
next time you are home – as my guest, Of course.”
From that moment Sir Oliver’s attitude towards Nicholas altered
dramatically. He became affable and solicitous, even going so far as to
send the butler to fetch a bottle of the 1954 Lafite.
“You have made a good impression,” Geoffrey murmured wryly. “HE doesn’t
waste the 1954 on anybody but the chosen few.”
It was after midnight when Nicholas was at last able to escape from his
hostess and rescue Royan from Sir Oliver and General Obeid. He led her
away, supporting her as she limped along fetchingly at his side,
avoiding Geoffrey Tennant’s knowing and speculative gaze until they had
negotiated the first landing of the staircase.
“Well, you were definitely the star of the evening,” he told her.
“You had Lady Bradford purring like a cat,” she counterattacked, and he
was delighted to hear the faint tone of possessive jealousy in her
voice. He had not been the only one.
At her door she solved any problems by offering him her cheek, and he
kissed it chastely.
“Those bosoms!” she murmured. “Don’t have nightmares about them.” And
she closed the door behind her.
He felt quite jaunty as he went to his own room, but as he opened the
door he saw the envelope lying at the threshold. During dinner, one of
the servants must have pushed it under the door. Quickly he tore open
the flap of the envelope and unfolded the pages that it contained. His
expression changed as he scanned through them, and he left the bedroom
and went back to tap on Royan’s door.
After a moment she opened it a crack, and peeped out at him. He saw the
confusion in her eyes, and he hurried to allay her suspicions.
“Reply to my fax.” He showed her the sheaf of papers.
“Are you decent?”
“One moment.” She closed the door, and opened it again only seconds
later. “Come in, she said.
She indicated the decanter on the cabinet. “Would you like a nightcap?”
“I think I need one. We know who runs Pegasus now.”
“Tell me!” she ordered, but he took his time pouring a Scotch, and then
smiled at her over his shoulder. “How about a soda water for you?”
“Damn you, Nicholas Quenton-Harper.” She stamped her stockinged foot.
“Don’t you dare torment me. Who is it?, “When I first met you, you were
a dutiful little Arab girl. One who realized the superiority of the mate
Listen to you now. I think I have spoiled you.”
“I think I should warn you that you are flirting with disaster.” She
tried to suppress her smile. “Tell me, please, Nicky.”
“Sit down,” he ordered, and took the armchair facing her. He unfolded
the fax and then looked up at her. “Mrs. Street has worked fast. In my
fax, I suggested that she rang my stockbroker in the city. We are three
hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, so it seems that she must have
caught him before he left his office. Anyway, she has all the
information I asked for.”
“Stop it, Nicky, or I will tear my bodice and scream and cause a
scandal. Tell me!’
He rustled the pages, and then read. “Pegasus Exploration is registered
on the Sydney Stock Exchange in Australia with a share capital of twenty
“Don’t go through all the details,” she pleaded. “Just name the man.”
“Sixty-five percent of the shares in Pe asus are owned by Valhalla
Mining Company,” he continued imperturbably, “and the remaining
thirty-five percent are owned by Anaconda Metals of Austria.”
She had given up pleading with him and sat forward in her chair,
watching him with a fixed gaze.
“Both Valhalla and Anaconda are fully-owned subsidiaries of HMI, Hamburg
Manufacturing Industries. All the shares in HMI are owned by the von
Schiller family trust, the sole trustees of which are Gotthold Ernst von
Schiller and his wife, Ingemar.”
“Von Schiller,” she repeated softly, still staring at him.
“Duraid had him on his list of possible sponsors. He must have read the
Wilbur Smith book – I know it has been translated into German. He
probably contacted Duraid just the way that you did. But he was not put
off as easily as you were by Duraid’s denials.”
“That’s the way I read it also, Nicholas nodded. “It would have been
easy to sniff around the Cairo museum, and find that Duraid and you were
working on something big. The rest of it we know only too well.”
“But how did he move Pegasus into Ethiopia so quickly?”she demanded.
“That must have been a stroke of luck on von Schiller’s side – the luck
of the devil. Geoffrey tells me that Pegasus obtained a concession to
prospect for copper from President Mengistu five years ago, just before
he was ousted. Von Schiller was already in place, even before he heard
about the scrolls. All it involved was moving the base camp down from
the north where they were working and relocating it on the escarpment of
the Abbay gorge, to be ready to take advantage of any fresh
developments. We will probably find his dirty tricks that Jake Helm is
one of his heavies, specialist that he sends to any of his trouble spots
around the world. It’s apparent that he has Nogo in his pocket.
We waltzed right into their arms.”
Royan looked thoughtful. “It all makes sense. As soon as Helm reported
our arrival to his master, von Schiller must have ordered him to set up
the shufta raid on our camp. Oh, sweet heaven, I hate him. I have never
laid eyes on him, but I hate him more than I thought I was capable of
hating anything or anybody.”
“Well, at least we know now who we are dealing with.”
“Not altogether,” she demurred. “Von Schiller must have had a man in
Cairo. Somebody on the inside there.”
“What is the name of your minister?” Nicholas wanted to know.
“No,” she denied it instantly. “Not Atalan Abou Sin. I have known him
all my life. He is a tower of integrity.”
“It’s amazing what effect a bribe of a hundred thousand dollars or so
can have on the foundations of even the best constructed tower,”
Nicholas observed quietly, and she looked stricken.
They were the only two at breakfast. Sir Oliver had left for his office
an hour earlier, and Lady Bradford had not yet risen to greet the clear,
cool highland morning, “I hardly slept last night, thinking about
Atalan. Oh, Nicky, I can’t bear even the suspicion that he might be
involved in Duraid’s murder.”
“Sorry if I gave you a rough night, but we have to consider all the
angles,” he tried to soothe her, and then changed the subject. “We have
wasted enough time here.
Pegasus have got a clear run of the field at the moment. I want to get
back home, and start putting together our own expeditionary force for
“Would you like me to get on to the airline and make our reservations?”
She stood up immediately. “I will go off and find a phone.”
“Finish your breakfast first.”
“I have had all I want.” She made for the door, and he called after her.
“No wonder you are so skinny- They tell me anorexia nervosa is a rotten
way to go.” And he helped himself to another slice of toast and
She was back within fifteen minutes. “Tomorrow afternoon at
three-thirty. Kenya Airways to Nairobi, connecting the same evening with
British Airways to Heathrow.”
“Well done.” He wiped his mouth on his napkin, and stood up. “Our car is
waiting to take us down to police headquarters to speak to your new
admirer, General Obeid.
There was a police officer waiting to meet them and usher them into the
headquarters building, through the private entrance. He introduced
himself as Inspector Galla and treated them with the greatest deference
as he led them through to the Commissioner’s suite.
General Obeid rose to his feet as soon as they entered his office, and
came around his desk to greet them. He was charming and affable, fussing
over Royan as he led them through to his private sitting room. Once they
were seated, Inspector Galla poured the inevitable tiny bowls of bitter
After a polite interval of small talk the general came directly to the
business in hand. “As I promised, I won’t detain you longer than is
absolutely necessary. Inspector Galla here will be recording your
statements. Firstly I would like to deal with the disappearance and
death of Major Brusilov. I presume you are aware that he was formerly an
officer in the Russian KGB?”
The interview lasted much longer than they had expected. General Obeid
was thorough, but unfailingly polite. Finally he had their statements
typed out by a police stenographer, and after they had read and signed
them, the general walked with them as far as the entrance where their
car was waiting. Nicholas recognized this as a mark of special favour.
“If there is anything I can do for you, anything that need, please do
not hesitate to call upon me. It has you been a great pleasure meeting
you, Dr Al Simma. You must come back to Ethiopia and visit us again
“Despite our little misadventure, I have thoroughly enjoyed your
beautiful country” she told him sweetly. “You may see us again sooner
than you expect.”
“What a charming man,” she remarked, as they settled into the back seat
of Sir Oliver’s Rolls. “I really like him.”
“It would seem to be mutual,’said Nicholas.
yan’s words were prophetic. There were idenical envelopes addressed to
each of them lying at their places on the dining-room table the next
morning when they came down to breakfast.
Nicholas opened his as he ordered coffee from the waiter in his
ankle-length shamnia, and his expression changed as he read the note.
“Hello!” he exclaimed. “We made an even bigger impression on the boys in
blue than we realized. General Obeid wants to see me again.”He read
aloud from the note, “You are ordered to present yourself at police
headquarters at or before noon.”‘ Nicholas whistled softly. “Strong
language. No please or thank you.”
“Mine is identical.” Royan glanced at the note on an official police
letterhead. “What on earth do you suppose it means?”
“We will find out soon enough,” Nicholas promised her. “But it sounds a
little ominous. Methinks the love affair is over.”
This morning, when they arrived at police head, quarters, there was no
reception committee to welcome them. The guard at the private entrance
sent them around to the general charge office, where they were involved
in a long, confused discussion with the desk officer, who had only a
rudimentary knowledge of English. From previous experience in Africa
Nicholas knew better than to lose his temper, or even to let his
irritation show. Finally the desk officer held a long whispered
telephone conversation with some unknown person, at the end of which he
waved them airily towards a hard wooden bench against the far wall.
“You wait. Man come soon.” fill For the next forty minutes they shared
their seat with a colourful selection of other supplicants, applicants,
complainants and petty criminals. One or two of them were bleeding
copiously from assault by persons unknown, and yet others were in
“It seems our star is on the wane,” Nicholas remarked as he held a
handkerchief to his nose. It was obvious that some of his neighbours had
not had a close acquaintance with soap and water for some time. “No more
VIP treatment.” At the end of forty minutes Inspector Galla, he who so
deferentially the day before, looked had treated them over the partition
and beckoned to them in a high-handed fashion.
He ignored Nicholas’s outstretched right hand and led them through to
one of the back rooms. There he did not offer them a seat but addressed
Nicholas coldly. “You are responsible for the loss of a firearm that was
in your possession.”
“That is correct. As I explained to you in my statement yesterday-‘
Inspector Galla cut him off. “The loss of a firearm due to negligence is
a very serious offence,” he said severely.
“There was no negligence on my part,” Nicholas denied.
“You left the firearm unguarded. You made no attempt to lock it in a
steel safe. That is negligence.”
“With respect,- Inspector, there is a notable dearth of steel safes in
the Abbay gorge.”
“Negligence,” Galla repeated. “Criminal negligence.
How are we to know that the weapon has not fallen into the hands of
elements opposed to the government?”
“You mean some unknown person may overthrow the government with a 275
Inspector Galla ignored the sally, and produced two documents from the
drawer of his desk. “It is my duty to ation orders on both you and Dr Al
serve these deport Simma. You have twenty-four hours to leave Ethiopia,
and thereafter you will be considered to be prohibited immigrants, both
“Dr Al Simma has not lost any weapons,” Nicholas pointed out mildly. “In
fact as far as I am aware, she has never been even mildly negligent in
her entire life.” And again his comment was ignored.
“Please sign here to acknowledge that you have received and understood
“I would like to speak to General Obeid, the Commissioner of Police,’
“General Obeid left this morning for an inspection tour of the northern
frontier districts. He will not return to Addis Ababa for some weeks.”
“By which time we will be safely back in England?”
“Exactly.” Inspector Galla smiled for the first time, a thin, wintry
smirk. “Please sign here, and.here.”
“What happened?” Royan demanded, as the driver opened the door of the
Rolls for her and she settled into the seat beside Nicholas. “It was all
so sudden and unexpected. One moment everybody loved us, and the next we
are being booted down the stairs.”
“Do you want my guess?” Nicholas asked, and then went on without waiting
for her reply. “Nogo is not the only one in Pegasus’s back pocket.
Overnight Obeid has been in contact with von Schiller, and received his
“Do you realize what this means, Nicky? It means that we will not be
able to return to Ethiopia. That puts the tomb of Mamose beyond our
grasp.” She stared at him with large dark eyes full of dismay.
“When Duraid and I visited Iraq and Libya, neither of us had letters of
invitation from either Saddam or Gadaffi, as I recall.”
“You look delighted at the prospect of breaking the law,” she accused.
“You are smirking all over your face.”
“After all, it is only Ethiopian law,” he pointed out virtuously. “Not
to be taken too seriously.”
“And it will be an Ethiopian prison they toss you into.
That you can take seriously.”
“You too,” he grinned, “if they catch us.”
You can be certain that HE has already registered a formal complaint
with the President’s office,” Geoffrey told them as he drove them to the
airport the next day. “He is most upset at the whole business, I can
tell you. Deportation orders and all that rot.
Never heard the likes.”
“Don’t fuss yourself, old boy,” Nicholas told him. “As it is, neither of
us intends coming back here again. No harm done.”
“It’s the principle of the thing. Prominent British subject being
treated like a common criminal. No respect shown.” He sighed. “Sometimes
I wish I had been born a hundred years ago. We wouldn’t have to put up
with this sort of nonsense. just send a gunboat.”
“Quite so, Geoffrey, but please don’t let it upset you.” Geoffrey
hovered around them like a cat with kittens while they checked in at the
Kenya Airways counter. They had only their hand luggage, two small cheap
nylon holdalls that they had bought that morning at a street market.
Nicholas had rolled his dik’dik skin into a ball and wrapped it in an
embroidered shamma that he had purchased in the same market.
Geoffrey waited with them until their flight was called and waved to
them after they passed through the barrier, aiming this affectionate
display more at Royan than Nicholas.
They had been allocated seats behind the wing, and Royan was beside the
window. The Kenya Airways plane started its engines and began to taxi
slowly past the airport buildings. Nicholas was arguing with a
stewardess who wanted him to stow his precious dik-dik skin in its
purple nylon bag in the overhead locker, while Royan peered out of the
porthole beside her for her last glimpse of Addis during takeoffs
Suddenly Royan stiffened in her seat, and while still gazing out of the
window reached across and seized Nicholas’s arm.
“Look!” she hissed with such venom in her tone that he leaned across her
to see what had excited her.
“Pegasus!” she exclaimed, and pointed to the Falco executive jet that
had just taxied in and parked at the far end of the airport buildings.
The small, sleek aircraft was painted grpen and on its tall tail fill
the scarlet horse reared on its hind legs in that stylized pose. While
they watched through the window, the door in the fuselage of the green I
Falcon was lowered, and a small reception committee waiting on the
tarmac pressed forward expectantly to greet the passengers as they
appeared in the doorway of the jet.
The first of these was a small man, neatly dressed in a cream tropical
suit and a white panama straw hat. Despite his size he exuded an air of
confidence and command, that special aura of power. His face was pale,
as though he had come from a northern winter, and it looked incongruous
“in this setting. His jaw was firm and stubborn, his nose I prominent
and his gaze beneath dark beetling eyebrows penetrating.
Nicholas’recognized him immediately. He had seen him often enough on the
auction floors at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. This man was not the type of
person whom anyone would forget in a hurry.
“Von Schiller!” he exclaimed, as the German surveyed with an imperial
gaze the men who waited on the tarmac below him.
“He looks like a bantam rooster,” Royan murmured, “or Thai’) a standing
Von Schiller raised his panama hat and ran down the steps of the Falcon
with a light, athletic tread, and Nicholas said quietly, “You wouldn’t
think that he is almost seventy.” moves like a man of forty,” Royan
agreed. “He “He must dye his hair and eyebrows – see how dark they are.”
“My oath!” Nicholas was startled. “Look who is here to greet him.”
There was the glint of sunlight on decorations and regimental insignia.
A tall figure in blue uniform detached itself from the welcoming group
and touched the shiny patent-leather brim of his cap in a respectful
salute, before taking von Schiller’s hand and shaking it cordially.
“Your erstwhile admirer, General Obeid. No wonder he could not meet us
yesterday. He was much too busy.”
“Look, Nicky,” Royan gasped. She was no longer watching the pair at the
foot of the steps, who were still clasping hands as they chatted with
animation. Her whole attention was focused on the top of the steps of
the Falcon jet, where another, younger, man had appeared. He was
bareheaded, and Nicholas had the impression of sallow skin and dense,
dark, wavy hair.
“Never seen him in my life before. Who is he?” Nicholas asked her.
“Nahoot Guddabi. Duraid’s assistant from the museum.
The man who now has his job.”
As Nahoot started down the steps of the Falcon their own aircraft
trundled on down the -tarmac, then swung out on to the main taxi-way and
blocked any further view of the gathering beside the Pegasus jet. Both
of them fell back in their seats and stared at each other for a long
Nicholas recovered his voice first.
“A witches’ sabbath. A convocation of the ugly ones.
We were lucky to witness it. There are no more secrets now. We know very
clearly who the opposition is.”
“Von Schiller is the puppet-master,” she agreed, breathless with anger
and horror. “But Nahoot Guddabi is his
,Bell hunting dog. Nahoot must be the one- who hired the killers in
Cairo and turned them loose on us. Oh God, Nicky, you it’s should have
heard him at the funeral, going on about how much he admired and
respected Duraid. The filthy, murib derous hypocrite!’
They were both silent until the aircraft had taken off and climbed to
cruise altitude, then Royan said quietly, “Of course, you were right
about Obeid. He is deep in von Schiller’s pocket also.”
“He may simply have been acting as the representative of the Ethiopian
government, paying respect to a major foreign concession-holder,
somebody who they hope is going to discover fabulous copper deposits in
their poverty stricken country and make them all rich.”
She shook her head firmly.
“If it was as simple as that, it would be one of the cabinet ministers
meeting him, not the chief of police, No, Obeid has the stink of
treachery on him, just the same as Nahoot.” kIN Seeing her husband’s
killers in the flesh had reopened the half-healed wounds of Royan’s
grief and mourning.
These bitter emotions were a flame that was burning he up ee, like the
bushfire in the trunk of a hollow forest tr consuming her from within.
Nicholas knew that he, could not quench that flame, that he could only
hope to distract her for a while. He talked to her quietly, turning her
dark thoughts away from death and vengeance to the challenge of Taita’s
game and the riddle of the lost tomb.
By the time that they had changed planes at Nairobi and landed at
Heathrow the following morning, the two of them had sketched out a plan
of action for their return to the Nile gorge and the exploration of
Taita’spool in the chasm. But although now Royan appeared on the surface
to be her usual calm and cheerful self once again, Nicholas knew that
the pain of her loss was still there beneath the surface.
They landed at Heathrow so early that they walked through the
immigration gates without running into a queue, and since they had no
bags in the hold they did not have to play the customary game of
roulette at the luggage carousel – will they arrive or won’t they?
carrying the dik-dik skin in the nylon bag under his arm, and with Royan
limping on her cane on his other arm, Nicholas sauntered through the
green channel of HM Customs, as innocent as a cherub from the roof of
the Sistine Chapel.
“You are so brazen,” she whispered to him once they were through and
clear. “If you can lie so convincingly to Customs, how can I ever trust
Their luck held. There was no queue at the taxi rank, and in a little
over an hour after touch-down the taxi deposited them on the pavement
outside Nicholas’s town house in Knightsbridge. It was only eight-thirty
on a Monday morning.
While Royan showered, Nicholas went down to the corner shop under an
umbrella to fetch some groceries Then they shared the task of cooking
breakfast, Royan taking care of the toast while Nicholas whipped up his
speciality, a herb omelette.
“Surely you’re going to need expert help when we go back to the Abbay
gorge?” Royan observed, as she let the butter melt into the hot toast.
I already have the right man in mind. I have worked before,” he told
her. “Ex-Royal Engineers. Expert with hi in diving and underwater
construction. Retired and living in a little cottage in Devon. I suspect
he is a little short of the ready, and bored out of his considerable
mind. I expect him to jump at any opportunity to alleviate either
As soon as they had finished breakfast, Nicholas told her, “I will do
the dishes. You take the films of the stele to be developed. There is a
one-hour service at the branch of Boots opposite Harrods.”
“That’s what I call a fair distribution of labour,” she remarked with a
long-suffering air. “You have a dishwasher, and it’s raining again
“All right,” he laughed. “To sweeten the pill, I’ll lend you my
raincoat. While you are waiting for the films to be developed you can go
shopping to replace the togs you lost in the rockfalls I have some
crucial phone calls to make.”
As soon as she had left, Nicholas settled at his desk with a notepad at
one hand and the telephone at the other.
His first call was to Quenton Park, where Mrs. Street tried not to show
how delighted she was to have him home.
“Your desk is about two feet deep with mail awaiting your return. It’s
“Cheerful, aren’t we?”
“The lawyers have been pestering me, and Mr Markham from Lloyd’s has
been ringing every day.”
“Don’t tell any of them that I am back, there’s a good girl.” Nicholas
knew exactly what they wanted from him the same thing that persistent
callers always wanted, money. In this case it was not simply five
hundred guineas for an overdue tailor’s bill, but two and a half million
pounds. “It’s probably better if I stay in York, rather than at
Quenton,” he told Mrs. Street. “They won’t be able to find me at the
He pushed his debts to the back of his mind, and concentrated on the
task at hand. “Have you got your pencil and notepad ready? All right,
here’s what I want you to do.”
It took him ten minutes to finish his dictation, and then Mrs. Street
read it back to him. “Okay. Get on with it, will you. We’ll be back this
evening. Dr Al Simma will be staying indefinitely. Ask the housekeeper
to prepare the second bedroom for her at the flat.”
Next he rang the number in Devon, and while the phone rang he imagined
the converted coast guard’s cottage of the cliffs overlooking a, grey,
storm-whipped on top winter sea. Daniel Webb was probably in his
workshop in the back garden, either tinkering with his 1935 Jaguar, the
great love of his life, or tying salmon flies. Fishing was his other
passion, the one that had originally brought them together.
“Hello?” Daniel’s voice was guarded and suspicious.
Nicholas could imagine him, his bald head freckled like a plover’s egg,
gripping the telephone with a hairy, workscarred fist.
ave a job for you. Are you a starter?”
“Where are we headed, Major?” Although it had been three years, he
recognized Nicholas’s voice instantly.
“Sunny climes and dancing girls. Same pay as the’last time.
“I’ a starter. Where do we meet?”
“At the flat. You remember it from last time.
bring your slide rule.” Nicholas knew that Tomorrow. Danny put no store
by these newfangled pocket computers.
“The jag is still in good nick. I’ll leave early and be there for lunch
Nicholas hung up, and then made two more calls: one to his Jersey bank,
and the other to the Cayman Islands.
The funds in both his emergency accounts were running low. His budget
for the expedition that he hadmorked out with Royan on the flight was
two hundred and thirty thousand. Like all budgets, he knew that it was
“Always add fifty percent,” he warned himself “Which that the cupboard
will be bare by the time we are mean finished. Let’s hope and pray that
you are not pulling our legs, Taita.”
He gave the passwords to the respective bank account ants and instructed
them to make transfers into his holding accounts, ready to draw on
There were two more calls he had to make before they left for York. The
fate of all their plans hung on them, and the contacts that he had for
both of them were at the best tenuous, and at the worst chimerical.
The first number was engaged. He rang it five times more, and on each
occasion got- the irritating high-pitched busy tone in his ear. He tried
one last time and was answered by a reassuring west country accent.
“Good afternoon. British Embassy. How may I help you?, Nicholas glanced
at his wrist-watch. There was a three-hour time difference. Of course,
it would be afternoon in Addis.
“This is Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper calling from the UK. Is Mr Geoffrey
Tennant, your military attache, available, please Geoffrey came on the
line almost immediately. “My dear boy. So you made it all the way home.
“Just thought I would set your mind at rest. Knew you would be losing
“How is the charming Dr Al Simma?”
“She sends her love.”
“I wish I could believe you.” Geoffrey sighed dramatically.
“Big favour, Geoff. Do you know a Colonel Maryam Kidane at the Ministry
“First-rate chap,” Geoffrey affirmed immediately. “Know him well. Played
tennis with him last Saturday, actually.
“Please ask him to contact me urgently.” He gave Geoffrey the telephone
number of the flat in York. “Tell him it’s in connection with a rare
breed of Ethiopian swallow for the museum collection.”
(up to your shenanigans again, Nicky. Not enough that you get slung out
of Ethiopia on your ear. Now you are trading in rare birds. Probably
CITES Schedule One.
“Will you do it for me, Geoff?”
“Of course. Serve to Lead, old boy. Always the sucker.”
“I owe you one.”
“More than one. Half a dozen, more like it.” He had less success with
his next call. International Enquiries gave him a number in Matta. On
his first attempt he received an encouraging ri riging tone.
me,” he pleaded in a whisper, but on
“Pick it up, Jan the sixth ring an answering machine cut in.
“You have reached the head office of Africair Services.
There is nobody available to take your call at the moment.
Please leave your name and number and a short message after the tone. We
will get back to you as soon as possible.
Thank you.”Jannie Badenhorst’s rich South African accent was
“Jannie. This is Nicholas Quenton-Harper. Is that broken-down old Herc
of yours still airworthy? This job should be a lark. What’s more, the
money is good. Call me at the flat in the UK. No hurry. Yesterday, or
the’ day before, will do just fine.”
Royan rang the doorbell a minute after he finished the last call, and he
ran down the stairs.
“Your timing is impeccable,” he told her as she came in with the end of
her nose pink with cold, shaking the raindrops off the coat he had lent
her. “Did you get the films developed?”
She pulled the yellow packet out of the coat pocket and brandished it
“You are a master photographer,” she told him. “They have turned out
perfectly. I can read every character on the stele with the naked eye.
We are back in Taita’s game again.”
They spread the glossy photographs across his desktop and gloated over
“You have had duplicates made? A set for each of us.
Excellent,” Nicholas approved. “The negatives will go into the safe
deposit box at my bank. We won’t take a chance on losing them the second
Using his large magnifying glass, Royan studied each of the prints in
turn, and she picked out the clearest shot of each of the four sides of
“These will be our working copies. I don’t think we are really going to
miss the rubbings that we lifted from the stone. These should suffice.”
She read aloud a snippet from one of the blocks of hieroglyphics. “‘The
cobra uncoils and lifts his jewelled hood. The stars of morning shine
within his eyes. Three times his black and slippery tongue kisses the
air.”‘ She was flushed with excitement. “I wonder what Taita is telling
us with that verse. Oh, Nicky, it’s so exciting to be unravelling the
“Leave it alone now he ordered sternly. “I know you.
Once you start, we’ll be here all night. Let’s get the Range Rover
packed up. It’s a long, hard haul up to York, and there is an AA warning
of black ice on the motorway. A bit of a change from the weather in the
She straightened up and shuffled the prints into a neat pile. “You are
right. Sometimes I do tend to get carried away.” She stood up. “Before
we go, may I make a phone call home?”
“By home, I take it that you mean Cairo?”
“Sorry. Yes, to Cairo. Duraid’s farnily7-‘
“Please! No need to explain. There is the phone. Help yourself I’ll be
waiting downstairs in the kitchen when you are finished. We both need a
cup of tea before we get going.”
She came down into the kitchen half an hour later looking guilty, and
told him directly, “I am afraid that I am going to be a nuisance again.
I have a confession to make.”
“Spit it out, he invited.
“I have to go back home – to Cairo,” she said, and he looked at her
startled. “Just for a few days,” she qualified hurriedly. “I was
speaking to Duraid’s brother. There are some of Duraid’s affairs that I
have to see to.”
I don’t like you going back there on your own,” he shook his head,
‘after your last experiences.”
“If our theory is correct, and Nahoot Guddabi was the danger, then he is
in Ethiopia now. I should be quite safe.”
“Still, I don’t like it. You are the key to Taita’s game.”
“Thank you kindly, Sir” she said with mock outrage. “Is that the only
reason you don’t want me bumped off?”
if forced into a corner, I may admit that I have also wn rather partial
to having you around.”
I’ll be back before you know I’ve even gone. Besides which, you will
have plenty to keep you busy while I am away.”
“I don’t suppose that I can stop you,” he grumbled.
When do you plan to leave?”
There’s a flight at eight this evening.”
(A bit sudden. I mean, we have only just arrived.” He made one last
feeble protest, then capitulated. “I will run you out to the airport.”
“No, Nicky. Heathrow is out of your way. I can catch the train.”
On a Monday evening the traffic was reasonably light and, once they had
cleared the main built-up area, they made good time. The journey was
further lightened by their animated discussion as he related the
contents of the phone calls he had made in her absence.
“Through Maryam Kidane, I hope to be in contact with Mek Nimmur again
pretty soon. Mek is the kingpin of the whole plan Without him we cant
even make the first move on Taita’s bao board.”
He dropped her off at the departures entrance at Heathrow. “Phone me
tomorrow morning from Cairo to let me know you are all right, and when
you are coming back.
I’ll be at the flat.”
“Reversed charges,” she warned him as she offered him her cheek to kiss.
Then she slid across the seat and slammed the door behind her.
He watched her waiflike figure in the rear-view mirror as he pulled
away, and he was filled with melancholy and a sense of loss. Then quite
suddenly he was aware of a new sensation of disquiet. His early-warning
bells were jangling. Something unpleasant was afoot. Something ing nasty
was about to happen when she reached Egypt.
Another dangerous beast had escaped from ” its cage and was prowling the
darkness waiting its opportunity to pounce, but it was still too early
for him to discern its colour or shape.
“Please don’t let anything happen to her,” he spoke aloud, but he did
not know to whom his plea was addressed. He thought of turning back and
making her stay with him, but he had no rights in the matter, and he
knew she would not obey him. Short of physical force, there was no way
he could impose his will upon her. He had to let her go.
“But I don’t like it one little bit,” he reaffirmed.
His private secretary, and the other men who worked for him, knew
exactly what he expected of them. Everything was as he required it.
Gotthold von Schiller looked around the interior of the Quonset hut with
approval. Heim had done well in the time that he had been given to
prepare the base for his boss’s arrival.
His own private quarters occupied half the long portable building. They
were spartan, but sterilely clean and neat. His clothes hung in the
cupboard and his cosmetics and medicines were set out in the bathroom
cabinet. His private kitchen was fully equipped and stocked with
provisions. His own Chinese chef had flown out in the Falcon with him,
bringing everything with him that he needed to provide the meals that
his master demanded.
Von Schiller was a vegetarian, a non-smoker and a teetotaller. Twenty
years ago he had been a famous trencherman who loved the hearty food of
the Black Forest, the wines of the Rhine valley and the rich dark
tobaccos of Cuba. In those days he had been obese, with rolls of chin
sagging over his collar. Now, despite his age, he was as lean and fit
and vital as a racing greyhound.
In the autumn of his life, the pleasures were of the mind and the
emotions, more than of the physical senses.
He placed a higher value on inanimate objects than on living creatures,
either human or animal. A piece of stone carved by masons who had been
dead for thousands of years could excite him more than the soft warm
body of the most lovely young woman. He loved order and control.
Power over men and events sustained him more than did the taste of food.
Power and the possession of beautiful and unique objects were his
passions, now that his body was running down and his animal appetites
were losing their zest.
Every item of all that vast and priceless, collection of ancient
treasures that he had already assembled had been discovered by other
men. This was his chance, his last chance to make his own discovery, to
break the seals on the door of a Pharaoh’s tomb and be the first man in
four thousand years to gaze upon the contents. Perhaps that Was his real
hope for immortality, and there was no price in gold and human life he
was not fully prepared to pay for it.
Already men had died in this passion of his, and he cared not that there
would be other sacrifices. No price was too high.
He checked his image in the full-length mirror that hung on the wall
opposite his bed. He smoothed the thick, coarse, dark hair. Of course it
was dyed, but that was one of his few remaining conceits. Then he
crossed the uncarpeted wooden floor of his own quarters, and opened the
door into the long conference room which would be his headquarters over
the days to come.
The persons seated there rose to their feet immedi.
lately, their attitudes servile and their expressions obsequious. Von
Schiller strode to the head of the long table and stepped up on to the
block of wood covered with carpeting that his private secretary had
placed there for him. This block went everywhere with him. It was nine
inches high. From this elevation von Schiller looked down upon the men
and one woman who waited for him. He looked them over unhurriedly,
letting them stand a while.
>From the vantage point of his block, he was taller than any of them.
First he looked at Helm. The Texan had worked for him for over a decade.
Completely reliable he was strong both physically and mentally and would
follow orders without question or qualms. Von Schiller had come to rely
on him. He could send him anywhere in the world, from Zaire to
Queensland, from the Arctic Circle to the steaming equatorial forests,
and Helm would get the job done with the minimum of fuss and with very
few unpleasant consequences. He was ruthless but discreet, and like a
good hunting dog he knew his master.
From Helm he looked at the woman. butte Kemper was his private
secretary. She ordered and directed the details of his life, from his
food to his block, from his medicine to his social calendar, No man or
woman was ever received into his presence without her prior arrangement.
She was also his communications expert. The mass of electronic equipment
that occupied one wall of the hut was her preserve. He was able to find
her way through the ether with the- infallible instinct of a homing
pigeon. From the archaic art of the keyboard and Morse code ‘to burst
transmissions and random switching he had never known another person,
male or female, who could match her wizardry. She was at that perfect
age for a woman, forty, slim and blonde, with slanting green eyes over
high cheekbones, resembling the young Dietrich.
Von Schiller’s own wife, Ingemar, had been an invalid for the last
twenty years, and Utte Kemper had stepped into the void she had left in
his life. Yet she was more than either secretary or wife to him.
When he had first met Utte, she had been holding a very senior position
in the technical section of the German national telecommunications
network, and moonlighting as a pornographic actress – not for the money
but for love of the job. Copies of the videos she had made at that time
were amongst von Schiller’s most precious possessions, after his
collection of Egyptian antiquities. Like Helm, she had no qualms. There
was nothing she would not do to him, or allow him to do to her, to
fulfill his most bizarre fantasies. When he watched her videos and she
did some of these things to him, she was the only woman who could still
bring him to orgasm. Yet even this happened less frequently with every
month that passed, and each time the spasms of sexual release she could
evoke from his aging body were less intense.
Utte had her recording equipment set up before her on the table. It was
part of her multifarious duties to keep, accurate and complete records
of every meeting and conversation. Then von Schiller looked past these
two trusted employees to the two other men standing at the table.
Colonel Nogo he had met for the first time that morning, as he stepped
down from the Jet Ranger helicopter that had flown them down from Addis
Ababa to the base camp here on the summit of the escarpment of the Nile
gorge. He knew very little about him, except that Helm had selected him,
and was so far satisfied with his performance. Von Schiller himself was
not equally impressed. There had already been some bungling. Nogo had
allowed Quenton Harper and the Egyptian woman to slip through his
clutches. After a lifetime of operating in Africa, von Schiller placed
little trust or store in blacks and preferred to work with Europeans.
However, he realized that for the time being Nogo’s services were
He was, after all, the military commander of the southern Gojam. No
doubt once he had served his purpose he could be taken care of Helm
would see to that. He would not have to bother himself with the details.
Von Schiller looked now at the last man at the table. Here was another
who was indispensable for the time being. Nahoot Guddabi was the one who
had brought the existence of the seventh scroll to his attention.
Apparently some English author had written a fictionalized version of
the scrolls, but von Schiller never read fiction of any sort, either in
German or in any of the four foreign languages in which he was fluent.
Without Nahoot bringing the existence of the Taita scrolls to his
notice, he might have overlooked this opportunity of his lifetime.
The Egyptian had come to him as soon as the original translation of the
scrolls had been completed by Duraid Al Simma, and the existence of an
unrecorded Pharaoh and his tomb had been mooted. Since then they had
been in constant contact, and when the time.came that Al Simma and his
wife had started to make too much headway with their investigations, von
Schiller had employed Nahoot to get rid of them and to bring the seventh
scroll to him.
The scroll was now the shining star of his collection, safely housed
with his other ancient treasures in the steel and concrete vaults below
the Schloss in the mountains that was his private retreat, his Eagle’s
Despite this, the choice of Nahoot to under-take the more sensitive work
of ridding him of Al Simma and his wife had proved to be a mistake. He
should have.. sent a professional to take care of them, but Nahoot had
argued that he was capable of seeing it through, and he had been well
paid for the work that he had mismanaged so ineptly.
He “too would be disposable in time, but right now von Schiller still
There was no question that Nahoot’s understanding of Egyptology and
hieroglyphics was far in advance of von Schiller’s own. After all,
Nahoot had spent most of his life studying them, while von Schiller was
an amateur and only a comparatively recent enthusiast. Nahoot was able
to read the scrolls and this new material that they had acquired as
though they were letters from a friend, whereas von Schiller was obliged
to puzzle over each symbol and resort frequently to his reference books.
Even then, he was not capable of picking up the finer nuances of meaning
in the text.
Without Nahoot’s assistance he could not hope to solve the riddles which
confronted him in the search for Mamose’s tomb.
This was the team who were now assembled beneath him, waiting for him to
start the proceedings. “Sit down, please, Fr5ulein Kemper,” he said at
last. “You too, gentlemen. Let us get started.”
Von Schiller remained standing on his block at the head of the table. He
enjoyed the feeling of superior height.
His short stature had been a source of humiliation ever since his
school-days when he had been nicknamed Tippa’ by his peers.
“Fr-dulein Kemper will be recording everything which is said here this
afternoon. She will also issue each of you with a folder of documents
which she will collect from you again at the end of this meeting. I want
to make it very clear that none of this material will ever leave this
It is of the most confidential nature, and belongs to me alone. I will
take a most stringent view of any breach of this instruction.”
As Utte handed out the folders, von Schiller looked at each recipient in
turn. His expression made it clear what the penalty would be for any
contravention of his instructions.
Then von Schiller opened the dossier that lay on the tabletop in front
of him. He stood over it, leaning forward on his bunched fists.
“In your folders you will find copies of the Polaroid photographs that
were recovered from Quenton-Harper’s camp. Please look at these now.”
Each of them opened their own folder.
“Since our arrival Dr Nahoot has had an opportunity to study these, and
he is of the opinion that they are genuine, and that the stele in the
photographs is an authentic artefect of ancient Egyptian origin, almost
certainly dating from the Second Intermediate Period, circa 1790 BC. Is
there anything you wish to add to that, Doctor?”
“Thank you Herr von Schiller.” Nahoot smiled eaginously, but his dark
eyes weren nervous. There was something cold and dispassionate about the
old German that terrified him. He had displayed ro emotion whatsoever as
he ordered Nahoot to arrange the death of Duraid Al Simma and his wife.
Nahoot knew that he would be equally unmoved if he were- to order
Nahoot’s own murder. He realized that he was riding the tiger’s back. “I
would just like to qualify that statement. I said that the stele
pictured in these prints appeared to be genuine. Of course I would not
be able to give you a definite opinion until I was able to examine the
actual stone at first hand.”
“I note your qualificatioq,” von Schiller nodded, “and we are assembled
here to find the means to obtain the stele for your examination and
verdict.” He picked up the glossy print that Utte had made from the
original that morning in the laboratory darkroom in the adjoining hut.
Photography was not the least of her many talents and skills and she had
done a very competent job. The copies of the Polaroids that Helm had
transmitted to him in Hamburg had been blurred and distorted, but still
they had been sufficient to bring him rushing across the continents in
all this haste. Now he held these clear likenesses in full colour, and
his excitement threatened to suffocate him.
While they were all silent, he caressed the print as lovingly as if it
had been the actual object that it portrayed.
If this were genuine, as he knew instinctively that it was, then it
alone would be well worth the considerable cost in time and money and
human life that he had already paid.
It was a marvelous treasure, to match even the original seventh scroll
which was already in his collection. The condition and state of
preservation of the stele after four thousand years seemed to be
extraordinary. He lusted for it as he had for few things in his long
life. It required an effort to set aside this pervasive longing, and to
apply his mind to the task ahead of him.
If, however, the stele is genuine, Doctor, can you tell us, or rather,
can you suggest to us where it may be situated, and where we should
direct our search?”
“I believe that we should not consider the stele in isolation, Herr von
Schiller. We should look at the other Polaroids that Colonel Nogo was
able to recover for us, and which Frdulein Kemper has so ingeniously
copied.” Nahoot set aside the one print and selected another from the
pile in the folder in front of him. “This one, for example.”
The others riffled through their own folders and selected the same print
as he was displaying.
“If you study the background of this copy, you will see that in the
shadows behind the stele there appears to be the wall of some type of
cave or cavern.” He looked up at von Schiller, who nodded encouragement.
“There also appears to be some type of barred doorway.”Nahoot set the
print aside and selected another. “Now, see here. This is a photograph
taken of another subject. It is, I believe, of a mural decoration
painted upon either a plastered wall or the bare rock of a cave,
possibly an excavated tomb, It seems to have been taken through the
grille of the gate which I pointed out to you in the first photograph of
the stele. This mural is almost certainly Egyptian in style and
influence. In fact it very strongly reminds me of those murals that
decorated the tomb of Queen Lostris in Upper Egypt in which the original
Taita scrolls were uncovered.”
“Yes. Yes. Go only’ von Schiller encouraged him.
“Very well, then. Using the barred gate as the connecting factor, there
is every reason to believe that both stele and murals are located in the
same cave or tomb
“If that is so, what indications do we have as to where Quenton-Harper
photographed these Polaroids7′ Von still frowning angrily as he looked
at each of Schiller was jl them in turn. They all tried to avoid his
blue, penetrating scrutiny.
Colonel Nogo,” von Schiller singled him out, “this is your country, You
know the terrain intimately. Let’s hear our thoughts on the subject.”
Colonel Nogo shook his head. “This man, this Egyptian-‘ he used the
epithet disparagingly, “is mistaken. This is not an Egyptian tomb in the
“Why do you say that?” Nahoot challenged him angrily.
“What do you know about Egyptology? I have spent twenty five years-I
“Wait,” von Schiller silenced him peremptorily. “Let him finish.” He
looked at Nogo. “Go on, colonel.”
“I agree that I don’t know anything about Egyptian tombs, but these
photographs were taken in a Christian church.”
“What makes you so sure? Nahoot demanded bitterly, his authority
“Let me explain to you that I was ordained as a priest fifteen years
ago. Later, I became disillusioned with Christianity and all other
religions, and left the Church to may believe become a soldier. I tell
you this so that you that I know what I am talking about.” He smiled
with ilious malice at Nahoot, before going on. “Look at superc and you
will be able to make out on this first print again, the wall in the
background, near the corner of the grille gate, the outline of a human
hand and the stylized picture mbols of the Coptic Church. You can see
-of a fish. Those are sy see them reproduced in any church or cathedral
in the land.” Each of them peered at their own copy of the same of them
ventured an opinion until von print, but none Schiller had given his,
“You are right,” von Schiller said softly. “There is, as you say, the
hand and the fish.”
“But I assure you the hieroglyphics on the stele and the murals and the
wooden coffin are all Egyptian,” Nahoot . “I would stake my life on it.”
defended himself stoutly Nogo shook his head, and began to argue. “I
know what I am saying-‘
Von Schiller held up his hand to silence them both while he considered
the problem. At last he came to some decision.
“Colonel Nogo, show me on the satellite photograph the site of
Quenton-Harper’s camp where you obtained these Polaroids-‘
Nogo stood up, and came around the table to stand beside von Schiller.
He leaned over the atellite photograph and prodded his forefinger at the
spot near where the Dandera river joined the Nile. The photograph had
once been in the possession of Quenton Harper, and had been captured in
the raid on his camp. There were numerous markings in coloured marker
pen on the copy, which Nogo presumed had been placed there by the
“It was here, sir. You can see that Quenton-Harper has marked the spot
with a green circle.”
“Now show me where the nearest Coptic church is situated.”
“Why, Herr von Schiller, it’s right here. Again Quenton-Harper has
marked it with red ink. It is situated only a mile from the campsite.
The monastery of St. Frumentius.”
“There is your answer, then.” Von Schiller was still frowning “Coptic
and Egyptian symbols together. The monastery.”
They stared at him, none of them daring to question his conclusion.
“I want that monastery searched,” he said softly. “I want every room and
every inch of every wall examined.” He turned back to Nogo. “Can you get
your men in there?”
“Of course, Herr von Schiller. I already have one of my reliable men in
the monastery – one of the monks is in my pay. Added to that, there is
still martial law in force here in Gojam. I am the military commander. I
am fully mpowered to search for rebels and dissidents and bandits
wherever I suspect they may be sheltering.”
“Will your men enter a church to perform their duty?” Helm wanted to
know. “Do you personally have any religious scruples? It may be
necessary to – how can I put it desecrate hallowed premises.”
I have already’explained to you that I have renounced religion for other
more worldly beliefs. I would take pleasure in destroying such
superstitious and dangerous symbols as will certainly be found in the
monastery of St. Frumentius. As for my men, I will select only Moslems
or Animists who are hostile to the cross, and all it stands for.
I will lead them personally. I assure you that there will be no
difficulty in that respect.”
“How will you explain this to your superiors in Addis Ababa? I do not
want to be associated in any way with your actions at the monastery,’
von Schiller said.
I have been ordered by the high command in Addis to take all possible
steps against the dissident rebels that are operating in the Abbay
gorge. I will be completely able to justify any search of the
“I want that stele. I want it at any cost. Do you understand me,
i understand you perfectly, Herr von Schiller.”
“As you already know, I am a generous man to those who serve me well.
Bring it to me in good condition and you will be well rewarded. You may
call on Mr Helm for any assistance that he can give you, including the
use of Pegasus equipment and personnel.”
“If we are able to use your helicopter, it will save a great deal of
time. I can take my men there tomorrow, and if the stone is in the
monastery I will be able to deliver it to you by tomorrow evening.”
“Excellent. You will take Dr Guddabi with you. He must search the area
for other valuables and translate any inscriptions or engravings that
you find in the monastery.
Please provide him with military uniform. He must appear to be one of
your troopers. I do not want to become involved in recriminations at a
“We will leave as soon as it is light enough to take off tomorrow
morning. I will commence the arrangements immediately.” Turna Nogo
saluted von Schiller and strode eagerly from the hut.
hough Colonel Nogo had never entered either the qiddist or the maqdas,
he had often visited the monastery of St. Frumentius. He was therefore
fully aware of the magnitude of the task ahead of him, and the likely
reaction of the monks and the congregation to his forced entry to their
premises. In addition, he was familiar with numerous similar rock
cathedrals in other parts of the country. In fact he had been ordained
in the famous cathedral of Lalibelela, so he knew just how labyrinthine
one of these subterranean warrens could be.
He estimated that he would need at least twenty men to secure and search
the monastery, and to fend off the outraged retaliation of the abbot and
his monks. He selected his best men personally. None of them was
Two hours before dawn he paraded them within the security of the Pegasus
compound, under the glare of the floodlights, and briefed them
carefully. At the end of the briefing he made each man step from the
ranks in turn and recite his orders to ensure there was no
Then he inspected their arms and equipment meticulously.
Tuma Nogo was painfully conscious of his own culpability in allowing the
Englishman and the Egyptian woman to escape, and he could sense the
danger in Herr von Schiller’s attitude towards him. He had few illusions
about the consequences if he were to fail again. In the short time since
he had made the acquaintance of Gotthold von Schiller, Nogo had come to
fear him as he had never feared God or the Devil in the days of his
priesthood. He realized that this raid was an opportunity to reinstate
himself with the formidable little German.
The jet Ranger was standing by, the pilot at the controls, the engines
running and the rotors turning lazily, but it could not carry such a
large number of fully equipped men. It would need four round trips to
ferry them all down to the asse4bly point in the gorge. Nogo flew with
the first flight, and took Nahoot Guddabi with him. The helicopter
dropped them three miles from the monastery, in a clearing on the banks
of the Dandera river, the same drop area as they had used for the raid
on Quenton-Harper’s camp.
The drop area was just far enough from the monastery for the engine
noise of the jet Ranger not to alarm the monks. Even if they did hear
it, Nogo was banking on the probability that they were by this time
thoroughly conditioned to the frequent sorties of the machine, and would
not associate it with any threat to themselves.
The men waited in the darkness, warned to silence and not even allowed
by Nogo to smoke, while the jet Ranger ferried in the remaining
troopers. When the last flight came in Nogo ordered his detachment to
fall in, and led them in single file down the path beside the river.
They were all trained bush fighters in top physical condition, and they
moved swiftly and purposefully through the night.
Only Nahoot was a soft urbanite, and within half a mile he was wheezing
and whining for a chance to rest. Nogo smiled vindictively to himself as
he listened to Nahoot’s pathetic whispered pleas for mercy as he was
prodded along by the men behind him.
Nogo had timed his arrival at the monastery to coincide with the hour of
matins and lauds, the break of day. He led his contingent down the cliff
staircase at a trot.
Their weapons were at high port, all the equipment was carefully muted
so as not to clatter or creak, and their rubber-soled paratrooper boots
made little noise on the stone paving as they hurried along the deserted
cloisters to the entrance of the underground cathedral.
From the interior echoed the monotonous chanting and drumming of the
ceremony, punctuated at intervals by the higher treble descant of the
abbot leading the service.
Colonel Nogo paused outside the doors, and his men drew LA up in double
ranks behind him. There was no need for orders for his briefing had
covered every aspect of the raid.
He looked the men over for a moment, then nodded at his lieutenant.
The outer chamber of the church was empty, as the monks were gathered in
the middle chamber, the qiddist.
Nogo crossed the outer nave swiftly, with his detachment moving up close
behind him. Then he ran up the steps to the wooden doors of the qiddist,
which stood open. As he entered, his men fanned out in two files behind
him and swiftly took up their positions along the side walls of the
qiddist, their assault rifles cocked and locked, and with bayonets
fixed, ing cover the kneeling congregation.
and swiftly that it was some it was done so silently minutes before the
monks gradually became aware of this alien presence in their holy place.
The chanting and drumming died away, and the dark faces turned
apprehensively towards the ranks of armed men. Only Jah Hora, the and
happen ancient abbot, was unaware of anything untow ing. Completely
absorbed in his devotions, he continued kneeling before re the doors of
the maqdas, the Holy of Holies, his quavering voice the lonely cry of a
In the silence Co nel Nogo marched down the centre of the nave kicking
the kneeling monks out of his way.
When he came up behind Jah Hora he seized him by his skinny black
shoulder and threw him roughly to the ground. The tinsel crown flew from
his silvered pate and rolled across the slabs with a brassy clatter.
Nogo, left him sprawling and turned to face the rows Of monks in their
white shammw, addressing them imperioUsly in Amharic.
“I am here to search this church and the or-her buildings of this
monastery, on suspicion that there are dissident other bandits harboured
here.” He paused and rebels and surveyed the cowering holy men haughtily
and threateningly. “I must warn you that any attempt to prevent my men
performing their duties will be regarded as an act of banditry and
provocation. It will be met with force.”
JaIi Hora crawled to his knees and then, using one of the embroidered
hangings for support, Slowly hoisted himself to his feet. Still clinging
to the tapestry of the Virgin and child, he gathered himself with an
“These are hallowed precincts,” he cried, in a surprisingly clear and
strong voice. “We are dedicated to the service and worship of almighty
God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
“silence? Nogo bellowed at him. He unbuckled the flap of the webbing
holster on his hip and placed his hand threateningly on the grip of the
Tokarev pistol it contained.
at. “We are holy men in a
)a1i Hora ignored the thre place of God. There are no shufta here. There
are no lawthe most high, I breakers amongst US. In the name of God leave
us to our prayers and our call upon you to be gone) to worship, and not
to desecrate Nogo drew the pistol and in the same movement swung the
black steel barrel into the abbot’s face with a outh burst open vicious
back-handed blow. jah Hora’s like the rind of a ripe pomegranate; the
red juice burst from front of his tattered his crushed lips and flooded
down the velvet vestments. A low moan of horror went up from the ranks
of squatting monks.
Still clinging to the tapestry, Jah Hora kept his feet, but he was
swaying and teetering wildly. He opened his shattered mouth to speak
again, but the only sound that came from it was a high-pitched cawing,
like that of a dying crow, and the blood splattered in bright droplets
from his lips.
Nogo laughed and kicked his legs from under him. Jah Hora. collapsed
like a heap of dirty laundry and lay on the paving, groaning in his own
blood and Spittle.
“Where is your God now, you old baboon? Bleat to him as loud as you
will, and he will never answer you,’
With the pistol he gestured to his lieutenant across the church. He left
six of his men guarding the monks, four at the doorway and one at each
side wall. The others bunched up and followed him to the entrance to the