If Bill was sensitive to what she was feeling he showed no sign; he pressed ahead with the immediate practicalities. “First things first. Luca, where is the key now?”
“In the house. I never took it out.”
“Well we have to retrieve it, and we have to keep you from returning to jail. If Zadok gets his hands on you again he will have that key in no time. I was more than a little surprised when he entrusted you to my care, even just for an hour in order to try to get to the bottom of this business – perhaps he has a soft spot after all.
“Meira, you are in this hotel room under protest from Zadok, and under the protection of her Majesty’s representative. That is, me. Don’t ask how I managed to secure an Australian citizen under the UK protectorate, but settle for the fact that I did. Please also accept the fact that what I have achieved so far will be short lived. You have to leave here in the next hour, and, when you do, you will be wanted by the police. You will be on the run. Probably for some time.” He paused, allowing them a second or two to absorb the information, and to accept their roles as fugitives.
Meira was the first to recover and gain some sort of perspective. She pushed the recent past behind her, concentrating with all her might on the immediate problems. “We are being guarded now?” Bill nodded. “You have a plan for our escape?” Again he nodded, and this time with a smile. He was pleased with her.
She did not return the smile. Her father was dead. Her mother had disappeared. Bill was a spy. She did not want to be in this movie. She wanted out of the ridiculous play that had become her life. She wanted out of Egypt, away from Bill and Luca, and she wanted it quickly, before she burst and ended up killing someone herself. Whatever it took. She would do whatever Bill said to get away from there: to get out of this fucking awful place.
Nigel Harper had an active, imaginative, yet disciplined, but above all else, tidy, mind. In order to keep things tidy he had to maintain complete control of his subordinates, but right now someone was not behaving as he, or she, should, because Absalom McMahon’s death was not on his agenda. It was not a disaster, indeed it might prove useful, but he had not ordered it. In fact he had ordered the opposite; he had told the commander to keep a lid on things. Violent sudden death does not serve that purpose. Whoever issued the instructions to kill Absalom was running ahead of him. He had to regain control.
He pressed the intercom to his private secretary’s office. “George, who do we have in Egypt keeping on eye on the sunshine?”
“That would be Celia Robinson.”
“What’s her stake?”
“Nefertiti research. She’s hoping to find her long lost body in a sarcophagus. Could be male or female, so it could take some time. We fund her department in Edinburgh, she keeps us up to date on who comes and goes.”
“Have her check in with me would you? As soon as you can. Has the commander reported lately?”
“Short message, sir. It’s in your day file.”
Harper released the intercom and typed in his codes to the day file server. His computer interrogated the server, the server replied with its own questions, finally it connected and revealed the day file. The commander had left a simple note: Coptic Foundation. “Damn.” Harper was annoyed now. If there was one disorganized, havoc creating, mob out there that could wreck his plans it was the middle-eastern Coptic group. They were a bloody rabble. Anything could happen when those dogs were out of the yard. The shame of it was they were so highly motivated, though Zealots was hardly the word Harper would use to describe them. Israelis were zealots, the Coptic Foundation was jam-packed with fanatics who, if they could be harnessed and organised, would make a formidable force. As it was they were loose cannons; their balls flew in all directions.
Colonel Zadok flipped through the pile of reports on his desk again, put them down, fiddled with the brass paperknife, stood, walked to the window, cussed, then paced back to the door. He should not have allowed the Italian Morello out of jail, even if only for a couple of hours. Aziz had called suggesting that letting the two suspects get together might be a better way to extract information. He had accepted the theory, not because of the merits of the argument, but because he was always loath to oppose the Minister of the Interior. Time had awarded him too much wisdom to be seen opposing the minister, but he had been uncomfortable from the moment Morello left the building. He returned to his desk and pressed the intercom. “Bring my car round to the front, and two uniformed men.” He pulled his tunic from the hanger, brushed it front and rear, hung the brush back on the hanger, straightened himself in the full length mirror, and strode out.
Under a wide brimmed hat, baggy, cargo pants, and an off white linen jacket, complete with Amarna Excavation ID badge clipped to his top pocket, Luca busied himself in conversation with a somewhat surprised, angular, man in his mid-fifties as they crossed the hotel lobby. Meira had the same ID on her man’s, loose fitting, khaki, safari suit. Her hair tucked under a flowerpot hat, and sporting pilot sunglasses with square lenses, she stayed close to the group as it passed before the policemen stationed about the lobby. They had both joined the Amarna Excavation group as it was leaving the convention room on the mezzanine floor, and had so far not been challenged. Outside stood a Toyota mini-bus: the driver standing by the large passenger door. Meira did a quick count of the group; they were only nine so they could all fit into the bus, but the driver was looking hard at Luca. It was likely that he had brought the group there and would be wondering about the two extra people. Well if he was he said nothing as they climbed aboard. Meira and Luca entering quickly, taking the forward bench seat to be near the door: just in case. They all sat inside in silence. The engine was running but the air conditioner was barely coping with the Cairo heat and the nine bodies in the limited, static, space while baggage chaos reigned outside. An eon passed while bags and equipment were loaded into the rear stowage, upon the roof, next to the driver, and finally, in a heart stopping flurry of confused activity, onto the seat beside the fugitives. Finally the bus lumbered off, turned onto the Corniche, then headed south beside the river. Luca stole a glance at Meira; she had her head back: a trace of a smile upon her face.