Monday / Tuesday
Rachel had reached a dead end with her examination of the autopsy results and thought, in the circumstances, it wasn’t that much of a bad choice of words. She wrote up her findings – such as they were – and gave them to Nick for his perusal and master file, then went to check on Murray and Merlin.
Knocking on the door, she opened it to find Murray sitting cross-legged on the bed, his eyes closed, breathing steadily. Merlin sat on the floor in the same position, but opened one eye to see who had entered.
“Okay,” she breathed, “end of session.”
Murray took a deep breath and looked up. “Hi, Rachel.”
“Murray, before I hand over to Rachel, I’m gonna ask you that question again. What’s your answer?”
“I think I believe in it,” he replied, “but I’m not sure if I do.”
Merlin patted his shoulder. “Great answer. Work thru that exercise as often as you can over the next few days. Then you can drop it back.”
He nodded. “Okay. Thanks. It makes a lot more sense now.”
Merlin stepped back. “He’s all yours, Rachel. Do you need me to stay?”
“I’m sure Nick could use your help.”
“Peri,” Murray began, “are you staying around .. in general?”
“If you want me to, I can.”
“I do. Positive reinforcement.”
Merlin winked. “You got it.”
Rachel closed the door behind her and turned back. “Good session?”
“Yes. It was .. different and interesting. I enjoyed it. Thank you for arranging it, Rachel.”
“Oh, I didn’t. It was Derek’s idea. Peri has a way of getting to you when you’re down, confused, miserable, afraid. She .. shines a light on what’s important an’ helps blow away all the dust. Nick says she always cuts to the chase. So,” she smiled, “are you ready to talk it over?”
Murray straightened his legs. “Can we go outside?”
“I wouldn’t,” Rachel cautioned. “We don’t know yet whether you have reason to .. suspect your friends died as a result of outside intervention.”
“A nicely chosen description,” he congratulated.
“Thank you,” Rachel accepted, bowing her head. “Derek’s looking at Professor Daly’s material and I’ve been thru the autopsy reports. I can’t find a medical reason, Murray. By any measure I know, they should still be alive. Of course, I’m not in possession of all the facts yet. All this is leading to … ”
“There could actually be a curse of some kind at work,” he remarked, his voice steady.
“Yes,” Rachel admitted. “Outside is not a protected area. Inside the house, you’re safe. But we don’t have to stay in this room. We could go sit by the pool.”
“Thank you. This is a lovely room but .. I need a change of scenery. I’m starting to feel cooped up. The pool sounds nice.”
“This way,” Rachel invited, gesturing to the door.
As they walked, Murray lapsed into a half frowning concentration. “When did George’s material arrive?” he asked at last. “I’d like to go thru it with Derek. Is Anna helping him?” he added.
“It was before noon. Derek an’ Anna have been looking at it all afternoon.”
“Has he found anything?”
“I haven’t had an update. Derek will enlighten us with the latest over supper, I expect. One thing I need you to do, Murray, is go over the account again. Now you’ve had some sleep and you feel calmer, you may remember something new.”
He nodded. “And it all helps in some way. All right.”
He took a deep breath and related his story again. Rachel listened carefully as they negotiated stairs and hallways, eventually arriving at the pool. One ear was listening to the content of his words to hear if he added anything, and the other was listening to the words themselves and running a comparison with the earlier version. Rachel didn’t really suspect Murray of making this up but it was a slim possibility. A story, a work of fiction woven around and thru accepted fact, would have to be repeated many times for all the obvious inaccuracies to be ironed out. One clear signal was that many of the words were identical. Key phrases were learned by rote. The important points were trotted out using the same words as last time.
Murray didn’t do that. He used the same order of events as before but described them differently. The detail he added wasn’t embroidery but genuine things he’d recalled. Mostly, it was his own insights on the events, his feelings and his thoughts.
This segued naturally into talking about what had happened afterward. Rachel listened, offering the occasional comment or asking a question, but mostly she let him talk it out. The initial disbelief he’d felt which had then turned by degree to stark horror and then matured into terror. Murray’s voice became quieter, more subdued, as he spoke of his friends and their deaths, but he didn’t start to get panicked about it. Beneath it all was regret that it had happened and deep puzzlement about why.
At last, Murray fell silent and gave a long sigh. He shrugged slightly. “I believe I needed to get all that into the open, Rachel. I know I’m not crazy. I’m confused and a little angry, but I’m not crazy.”
“I agree. Anger’s natural so don’t dwell on that. It’ll pass.”
Murray looked at her. “I’d like to get back to work. I was a consultant on George’s dig. George isn’t here to finish his work. I feel I owe it to him to see it thru.”
“You don’t feel you’re too close to it?” Rachel inquired.
“Obviously I am. I won’t deny that. I can’t. Derek and Anna are two very experienced, professional people and they’re coming at it fresh, from two different angles. I can’t do much more than they’re already doing but .. I’d be representing George Daly because he isn’t here to speak for himself.”
“Let’s go an’ ask Derek if that’s okay, shall we?” she suggested.
Merlin reached the control room feeling she’d made a big difference to Murray Snowden’s way of seeing life. It was a good feeling and she smiled.
Nick looked round, stood and engulfed her in a hug. Derek had told him the Legacy had to come first for a while but Derek wouldn’t begrudge five minutes. Besides, even if he did, Derek was in the study, not here.
The kiss lasted some time. It was hot enough to melt any lingering fingers of ice and bring any gaps slamming shut. If Merlin could do it for others, Nick did it for her. He shone a light on the important things and blew away the dust.
“If I lose it again an’ I scare you,” he murmured, “just remind me of today, remind me how close I came to losing you, an’ tell me I’m being a jerk. I can’t promise I won’t walk .. but I won’t walk far an’ I’ll always come back.”
“Okay,” Merlin agreed.
“I didn’t mean to scare you, Merli. I never thought .. it never even occurred to me. A lot’s changed, hasn’t it? You getting switched off, it affects me too. I’ll remember that.”
“Good. Cos I will be saving up your punishments an’, when I get switched back on again, you’re gonna get it all back.”
“Ouch,” he winced but grinned.
“Okay, tough guy. Where can I help out?”
“What did Murray tell you?” Nick asked in reply.
“Not much but that wasn’t why I was with him. I know it’s about Egypt an’ a curse. Four people are dead.”
“Right. I have Professor Daly’s research notes. Derek an’ Anna have his presentation material an’ the text of an article. I have to go thru this, dismantle it, search for anything off or unusual. I’m not expert in excavation or techniques but Derek believes that’s good.”
She nodded. “Okay, let’s hit it together.”
“Can I ask something?” he ventured as they crossed to the work area.
“How did you find out?”
“Rafe told me. I guess they can see things even I can’t. I was as surprised as hell. I thought it’d take a little longer than a couple of days. Then .. the surprise wore off an’ I felt so strange.”
“How?” Nick asked.
“Kinda warm an’ fuzzy. That’s strange for me. I was .. so happy. I couldn’t wait for you to get back so I could share … ”
“An’ I blew it outta the water. I’m sorry, Merli. Forgive me?”
“Well, looking back, maybe I started off wrong. You thought I’d caved an’ gone back to full power. I wouldn’t do that, Nicky. Just me .. yeah. Given a choice, I would not live like this. But it wasn’t just me. There was a lot more at stake. I had to think of the effect on others. I wanted to explain about that before surprising you.” She looped her arm thru his. “I forgive you. Now, Derek told you the Legacy comes first for a while. I think we should focus.”
“Right. Did I mention I’ll have to go to Egypt for a while?”
“That’s work. Field trips don’t count.”
“I could maybe get you on the same flight,” Nick suggested.
Merlin shook her head. “What could I do? No, I’ll stay here. Who else is going?”
“Derek, Rachel, an’ Anna. We’re going via Paris so we’ll pick up Alex on the way.”
“Then you’re more than covered. I’ll stay here with Murray. In a way .. I’m his shield. I can’t pick up a sword an’ fight but I can help him strengthen his mental defenses. That’s just talk an’ attitude an’ self belief. I still got those.”
“Right,” he grinned. “Okay, this is Professor Daly’s research notebook. A kinda journal cum scratch pad. It starts in Cairo while they finalize their permits, then moves south to the Valley of the Kings where they put together their native workforce. South again, by about .. five miles,” he said, converting it from kilometers.
Merlin was speed reading sections as he turned the sheets over.
“A few weeks of surveying an’ then Murray arrives. Daly writes that he’s pleased to have Dr Snowden on the team. He feels he’s close to discovering something in the area and maybe Murray will be his good luck charm. Seems he was right. A couple of days after that .. bingo. They unearth a couple of steps. They excavate a flight of stone stairs leading down over the next two days or so an’ uncover a door.”
Merlin leaned in closer. “Is this it? This drawing?”
“I guess so. The hieroglyphs painted on the plaster read, according to the translation a couple of pages farther on, ‘this door is here to protect and must not be opened. Proceed and death will follow’.” He glanced at her. “It seems to me to be pretty much standard.”
She nodded slowly. “About right, yeah.”
“They made a hole big enough for a flashlight so they could see what’s on the other side. It’s a chamber. One painted wall. No treasure.” He paused, scratching a thumb nail along his jaw. “They set a guard, go back to their camp, Daly and his assistant translate the hieroglyphs. They all laugh about it, bed down for the night. Am I missing something?”
“It seems okay to me. Maybe he’s bending the rules of his permit to almost snapping by making the hole before notifying the authorities but, apart from that, I can’t see anything off.”
“Next day, Daly calls Cairo to tell ’em what he’s found. He asks permission to tear down the door and enter the chamber to begin recording it. He gets permission granted. That day, they break it down.”
“Does he say what the door’s made of?”
Nick glanced thru the notes. “Mud brick, plaster. Typical construction. Oh .. he says it was double thickness. Twice what he was anticipating.”
Merlin frowned. “Hmm.”
“Problem? Double thickness would keep out tomb robbers a little longer. Deter all but the most resolved.”
“Yeah,” she agreed softly. “What next?”
“They began surveying an’ mapping the interior. Dr Daly – the Professor’s wife – an’ Phil Bateman recorded the wall decorations. Professor Daly an’ Rebekka Staleygate began noting down the hieroglyphs. Murray carried out resonance tests to see if any passages led off; he found one behind the eastern wall. Bateman wanted to drill a hole for a fiber optic cable but Daly said no, they’d wait. They continued to work on the chamber. Government rep arrived next day an’ said the chamber had to mapped an’ recorded totally before they could go any farther. Soon after that, Murray left for London. Dr Daly flew home a couple of days after that to start putting the visuals together for the presentation to the National Institute. Daly an’ the two assistants stayed on site for almost a week then heard Dr Daly had collapsed. The professor an’ one assistant flew home the following day.”
“An’ now they’re all dead except for Murray,” Merlin remarked.
“We have to figure out why.”
“What about the government rep? Is he still alive?”
“I’ll contact the Cairo house. They can find out an’ do a little more digging for us before we arrive. The rep’s name is Dr Hosni Abdul al-Nasat. Daly writes he was very excited at the find.”
Merlin turned back a few pages to read about the door while Nick picked up the phone. She was no expert either but Professor Daly was. If he was surprised that the door was twice as thick as he was expecting then it was worth pointing out.
Derek came in at a brisk walk. “Progress?”
“Maybe,” she said. “You?”
“There was an error in the interpretation. George translated the hieroglyphs on the door correctly but then didn’t get the right meaning. The door was there to secure, not protect, and should never have been opened.”
“Ah … ” Merlin nodded, adding, “It was twice as thick as he was expecting. Kinda fits, huh?”
“Something was inside the chamber. George released it when he broke down the door. Who’s Nick calling?”
“Cairo house. Checking on Dr Hosni Abdul al-Nasat, the government rep.”
“I meant to do that,” Derek recalled, irritated with himself. “How’s Murray?”
“Feeling a lot more self confident,” she replied.
In the study, Anna was puzzling over the photos of the chamber when Rachel and Murray came in. She looked round then her eyes lit. “Murray! An’ looking human again.”
He laughed softly, ruefully, and ran a hand around the back of his neck in a sheepish manner. “I was rather wrecked, wasn’t I? I mean .. Rio? What on earth possessed me?”
“I have no idea, although,” Anna added archly, “I have always suspected you have a wild streak buried somewhere deep in your psyche. Maybe it only comes out to play when you’re very stressed.”
“Maybe it does,” he agreed.
“Anna, where’s Derek?” Rachel cut in.
“He went off to find Nick. Murray, I need your input. Can you stay an’ help me out?”
Warily, a little plaintively, Murray looked to Rachel. “Sure, but don’t overdo it,” she warned. “If you feel a sudden urgent need to fly to Rio, just take a step back till it passes. Okay?”
“I understand,” he smiled and went to the small desk. “What do you need?”
Rachel left them to it and hurried to the control room. Nick was still on the phone to Cairo and Merlin and Derek were bent over George Daly’s notes.
“Any news?” she asked.
“A breakthrough, we think, but not necessarily a good one,” Derek replied. “How’s Murray?”
“Keen to help,” Rachel answered. “He wants to get back to work. As he consulted with Professor Daly, he feels he should act as his representative in this investigation.”
Derek frowned and nodded, indicating not agreement but understanding. “And what is your opinion?”
It had been some time since Rachel felt pleased that Derek asked her that question. She knew she was a member of the team and therefore entitled to her views. But this brought a warm echo of the pleasure – Murray was Derek’s friend and her opinion was more than valid, it was valued.
“It would square the triangle and cover the bases,” she responded. “I’ve got the medical aspects. Anna is an archeologist fresh to the case. You have specialized knowledge which covers the archeology an’ any supernatural areas. Murray was there an’ is a link to the people who died. Nick an’ Peri sit in the center to coordinate. I think it’ll do him good,” she concluded. “I’ve listened to his version of events again and it’s different while being the same. The basic facts are unchanged, the language used to describe them has varied. I’d expect that if he wasn’t lying an’ has had a good night’s sleep. I believe that he isn’t making any of it up. Plus he feels a little embarrassed. He’s presented you with a dilemma an’ now wants to help solve it. He has regrets, he’s angry an’, most of all, he’s puzzled as to why it happened. His recovery is underway but it won’t be finished until this is over an’ history. Part of that recovery is facing his demons.”
“We’re flying to London tomorrow,” Derek said. “Nick has reserved seats on the early afternoon flight. Do you think Murray should come with us?”
Rachel hesitated and it was Merlin who shook her head. “It’s too soon, Derek. Pushing him too far now will set him back. Yeah, he has to face his demons but I’d wait a few more days, give him a chance to strengthen his defenses. I can stay an’ work with him. Then, if you need him in Egypt, I’ll accompany him.”
“Peri’s right,” Rachel agreed. “He’s too mentally frail right now to go back there. Not to mention that the desert is hot an’ dry an’ physically demanding .. an’ the situation in that part of the world isn’t exactly stable. We may have to move in a hurry.”
“Very well,” Derek decided. “Rachel, we need to be at the airport at ten tomorrow morning.”
She closed her eyes to inwardly review her schedule. “I’ll eat supper here then head home. I can make some calls, arrange cover, pack a bag an’ meet you at the airport. How long are we likely to be away? Do you have even an idea?”
“A week?” Derek ventured. “Could be less, may be more.”
“Okay. What’s the breakthrough?” she asked.
“There’s more than one kind of curse,” Merlin replied.
“I see what you mean,” Murray breathed, absorbed in the pictures. “I guess it’s the flash photography. It’s thrown the colors a little off.”
“So this isn’t a different depiction of Osiris?” Anna queried.
“The usual depiction of Osiris is a man swathed in white grave wrappings and with a distinctly green cast to his face and hands. This looks greenish but it was actually more blue plus he’s stripped to the waist, so I’d say no.”
“Blue. A sort of turquoise or aquamarine?”
“Yes,” Murray confirmed. “And I don’t know of anyone in the Ancient Egyptian pantheon with that color skin. Do you?”
Anna slowly shook her head. “So .. who is this meant to be?” She sat back. “Did George say anything at all about who he thought might be buried here? Could it have been Imhotep?”
“There’s nothing in the hieroglyphs? No cartouches?”
“Not a one,” she replied. “This is a unique find, Murray. We really need to get back there. Do some tests to carbon date the age of it. Then we can maybe cross reference to known history. See what dynasty, who was pharaoh at the time, what events happened in his or her reign. This could be a one off god, start of a new religion which may predate Akhenaten.”
“What a superb discovery .. if it is.”
“Even if it isn’t, George deserves major kudos,” she countered. “It’s still unique. Who is this guy?”
“I have absolutely no idea,” Murray replied, and a small drop of blood fell onto the photo. Murray put a hand to his nose. “Great, a nosebleed.”
Derek came in. “Hello, Murray. Rachel tells me you’ve made fantastic progress. What’s wrong?”
“Nosebleed,” Anna supplied. “Derek, do you know of any gods with a turquoise or aquamarine face an’ skin? We can’t identify the subject here. It isn’t Osiris. That was only ever a long shot but it’s been ruled out. We have to get back to Egypt.”
“We leave tomorrow. You’ll have to be packed for an early start. Airport at ten, flight at one.”
“London,” he corrected. “We’ve made a start, Anna, but it’s still very early days.”
“I’ll be ready too,” Murray said.
“You’re staying here,” Derek declared.
“But .. you can’t!” Murray exclaimed. “This is my investigation – ”
“It’s mine. It became mine when you arrived asking for my help,” Derek countered. “Murray, I realize you have a personal interest in this. You want to represent George and I fully support you in that. I’m not banning you from helping. Peri and Rachel both agree that tomorrow is much too soon for you. In a few days, when you’re stronger, and if there is a need which I expect there will be, you can fly out to join us. We’re going to London first, to mop up the loose ends there, then we go on to Paris to pick up Alex. Only then do we fly to Cairo. We could be a day or two there, seeking the necessary permissions to return to George’s site and putting our gear together. By that time, you could be with us. I do not want to remind you that four people are dead who should be alive. I am not going to rush into anything until I have a lot more information. Use the time, Murray. Peri says she’ll stay with you and come with you to Egypt.”
Murray met Derek’s gaze. “Is there a curse?”
“There’s something,” Derek confirmed. “A curse, yes, but not the kind we thought.”
“What d’you mean?” Anna frowned.
“I’ll tell you over supper,” he replied. “We’ll have a round table update.”
At the dining table, Murray Snowden looked the most awake and alert of all of them. All the others had put in a long day and it showed.
“Well?” he demanded. “What’s been happening? What have you found out?”
“I’ll go first,” Rachel offered.
“Am I gonna want to throw up?” Anna interrupted.
“No, not at all, because, basically, I didn’t learn anything. The cause of death in the cases of George Daly, Phil Bateman and Rebekka Staleygate was cardiac arrest. Sudden an’ unexpected. Their hearts just stopped. In some ways, it’s a get out clause because everyone’s heart stops when we die. Get hit by a runaway locomotive, you’ll have cardiac arrest but what caused it would be impact by locomotive. With me?”
They all nodded.
“With George, Phil and Rebekka, there’s no cause for the cardiac arrest. They ran the usual battery of tests with negative results. Something had to go on the form, they put heart attack an’ released the bodies for burial. Really .. it’s an open verdict. In Gayle Daly’s case, the cause of death is systematic and total organ failure. Her body just quit an’ there was a cascade effect. Again, no reason for it. When we get to London, I’m going to look at their medical records. There may be something in there. Nick’s gonna question their friends to get an idea of lifestyle. Somewhere, we may learn a vital clue,” she said and sat back.
“I looked at the article,” Anna went on, picking up the story. “It was definitely George’s language. I could hear his voice coming thru. Blunt, brisk, facts an’ figures. No conjecture at all. It pretty much mirrored Murray’s account. Then, after helping Derek with the hieroglyphs, I moved on to the photographs Gayle took of the interior of the chamber. Essentially, the eastern wall is the most interesting. The other walls have what can only be described as sketches. Lines, ready to be painted but never done. The eastern wall, however, is finished and depicts a god unknown to the accepted pantheon or a very strange human. He has blue skin. The painting is typical, stylized, right clothes and hair, but the subject definitely isn’t typical.”
Derek’s gaze went to Nick and Merlin.
“We went thru Professor Daly’s research notes,” Nick said. “We found one thing which was off an’ it was the Professor who gave us the lead. The door at the base of the steps was twice as thick as he thought it would be. I contacted some associates in Cairo to check up on the government rep who visited the site. They just called back. Dr al-Nasat died two weeks ago. They’re getting the paperwork for you, Rachel. We can pick it up when we hit Cairo. They’re also gonna start smoothing the path for us with the authorities so getting the necessary permits an’ permissions shouldn’t take too long.”
Merlin and Rachel accepted this news almost as if it was expected. Even Derek made no comment but Anna pulled back a little and frowned, and Murray’s face drained of blood.
“He’s dead ..?” he whispered, shocked. “My God … He was one of the fittest men I’d ever met. One of those wiry, endless supply of energy type of guys. He made me feel lazy. I couldn’t ever keep up with him. He’s dead?”
“Murray,” Merlin said, “exercise. Now.”
He swallowed but closed his eyes. His breathing, which had picked up, started to slow again.
“Five deaths, after going into the tomb,” Anna commented into the silence. Merlin’s gaze drifted to her face, silently warning Anna to choose her next words very carefully. “It is beginning to seem more than coincidence. There’s still no proof, of course, but I am starting to feel like I’m out on a limb being the only one who’s insisting it’s down to natural causes.”
“It could be,” Rachel remarked. “We’ve only scratched the surface of the medical side of it. There’s a lot more work to do yet. And we have to ask one very important question .. which I’m wary of asking right now.”
Murray opened his eyes again. “It’s all right, Rachel. I’m ready.”
“When the door was broken, where were you all standing?”
He frowned as he concentrated; it hadn’t been the question he’d thought it would be. “George insisted on swinging the hammer. He’d found the steps, and the door at the base. Native help excavated the steps but George was the first down them once the door started to emerge. He wanted to be the first to see what was on the other side. So .. George was nearest. Phil and I stood just behind, then Rebekka and finally Gayle. Why is that important?”
“Because the next very important question is .. how come, of all of them, you’re not already dead too?”
“Gayle, at the rear, was the first to fall ill, the last to die. Phil, standing next to you, was the first to die. Then Rebekka, who was behind you. Around the same time, Dr al-Nasat died .. and he wasn’t even present when the door was broken. Then George collapsed and died, and he was closest. Yet you, Murray, among all those people, are still alive,” Derek said. “What singles you out for such consideration?”
“I don’t bloody know!” Murray exclaimed.
“I ask rhetorically,” Derek smiled. “It is a question which, as yet, cannot be answered but it is worthy of .. keeping in mind. You may have some genetic immunity.”
“Maybe I have. Lucky me.” Murray pushed his plate away and leaned back, folding his arms.
“Okay, Derek,” Rachel invited. “What’s the breakthrough?”
“There was something which intrigued me about the wording of the curse. On surface examination, it didn’t seem to be so much a curse as a warning. After all, telling someone that death will follow is a little pointless as death comes to us all eventually. So I looked at the printout of the photograph of the door and the hieroglyphs. I looked at Gayle’s copy of them. She made no error in the drawing. As Anna can testify,” he confessed, “my ability with hieroglyphs is not as good as I, or my father, would like so I took my time in translating them for myself.”
“George was an expert,” Murray accused. “You didn’t have to do that, Derek. You just duplicated effort.”
“Yes, that’s true. However, consider the circumstances. He has, possibly, discovered a tomb like that of Tutankhamun. It may even be the lost tomb of Imhotep. Stuffed full of treasure. Unlooted. Unknown about for thousands of years. You said it yourself, Murray – the thought was in the back of all your minds. George makes a hole in the door and looks thru. He sees a decorated chamber. Tell me, was he excited?”
“Of course he was!”
“And, in that mood, expert as he was, he sat down to translate these hieroglyphs. It was my opinion that he could have made an error – either in the translation or in the interpretation. I do not accuse him of being reckless, of deliberately getting it wrong in his haste to explore. I simply thought how I would be in his situation. I would want someone to double check my work, just to be sure.”
“Rebekka helped him.”
“And she, no doubt, was just as much an expert as he was,” Derek commented.
Murray flushed. “No, she wasn’t.”
“I thought so too. Research assistants in their twenties are usually not as proficient as their professors who are in their early fifties. I retranslated the hieroglyphs because this is my investigation and I want to be thorough.”
“And?” Murray challenged.
“George translated them accurately.”
“A duplication of effort,” Murray pointed out.
“But he made two errors in the interpretation. You told us the words were ‘This door is sealed to protect and must not be opened. Proceed and death will follow’. It actually says ‘This door is sealed to secure and must never be opened. Proceed and death will follow’. A subtle distinction yet critically important to our understanding of what happened next. George did open the door. Death has followed.”
“So .. where does the two types of curse come in?” Anna inquired.
Derek glanced at Merlin, inviting her to explain.
“One is typical,” Merlin answered. “It’s the kind which operates purely internally. I could curse you now an’, depending on the way your mind works, you’d make it happen. It’s the power of suggestion backed up by the fear of unknown forces. The other is, I’m tempted to say, also typical but it’s rare to encounter these days. A physical curse. No, I don’t mean dolls with pins in. I mean a curse on mankind kinda curse. A malevolent will which reaches out and physically affects people, attacks them. If it were possible to control the weather, it would be like someone deliberately causing a tornado to form and rip apart homes, killing people. The wording on the door suggests it’s this second kind. Something which should be shut away forever. After all,” she shrugged, “there is no curse of the first kind in those words.”
“A malevolent will … That’s typical?” Anna asked skeptically.
“Sure. But rare.”
“Some .. entity was sealed in the chamber,” Rachel reasoned slowly. “An entity with a malevolent will. The door was opened and it was released.”
“Why isn’t it rewarding us?” Murray inquired. “After that long being shut in the dark, it’s free. It thanks us by killing us? That’s gratitude for you.”
“A benevolent will would,” Nick pointed out. “You’re forgetting this is a curse on mankind deal, Murray. Those guys are always malevolent. They don’t like to say thank you, they like to tear your head off.”
Anna was nodding thru all this and now she leaned forward. “And the proof? I know I keep coming back to this an’ it’s a pain in the ass, I’m sure, but it’s how I am. I like proof. I know where I am with proof.”
Derek shrugged mildly. “At the moment, there is none. It’s all supposition. Conjecture. Five people are dead, yes, but, apart from being connected to the tomb, there’s nothing to link them to .. any kind of curse or entity.”
“It’s why we have to go out there,” Rachel added. “To get the proof.”
“An’ then what?” Anna frowned. “Assuming you can get it, what will you do with it?”
“That’s easy,” Nick answered. “We use it to get the thing back in its box an’ bury it there for eternity.”
Nick zipped his duffel and put it by the bedroom door. He looked down at it for a long moment, apparently deep in thought, then turned.
“I don’t want you flying to Egypt,” he announced. “I don’t want you anywhere near the place.”
Merlin smiled. “Nicky, you’re going.”
“S’got nothing to do with it.”
“It’s because I’m pregnant.”
“Partly,” he nodded. “Mostly, it’s because .. you can’t protect yourself. You’re normal.”
“I say again – you’re going.”
“Sure. My shots are all up to date. Are yours?”
Her shoulders fell. “I’ve never needed them.”
“An’ you’re pregnant. You catch something, it won’t just affect you. I don’t want either of you at risk.”
“Murray – ”
“Profelis can go with him. Call him. Put him on standby.”
“He’s doing training week.”
“Then call someone else. Merli, I’m insisting on this one. This thing, whatever it is, can hit someone in London an’ in Cairo at the same time. It’s too dangerous.”
Merlin nodded. “Okay. I’ll stay here.”
The next morning after breakfast, Anna, Derek and Nick took their leave and drove away. Murray didn’t watch them go because he was still asleep. Merlin and Andrew waved until the Range Rover vanished around the bend in the road then they strolled back inside.
“Egypt,” Andrew remarked on a wistful sigh. “I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids.”
“They’re big,” Merlin commented.
“Really? How big would you say?”
“Very .. very big.”
“One day,” he decided. “Shall I keep something warm for Dr Snowden?”
“Yeah. I’ll go wake him now. He’s probably sulking cos he gets to stay here. Well, guess what, Dr Snowden? I get to stay here too.”
Merlin went upstairs but didn’t go straight to his room. She slowed to make a phone call.
“Jon? Hi! Where are you?”
“Evan rang. I’m packing now. I catch the seven fifteen.”
“Great. I need you over here as soon as.”
“I can be there in a few seconds,” he offered. “What’s happened?”
“Oh .. nothing, really. When you get here is soon enough. It can wait. I’m looking after someone an’ the chances are he’ll have to go to Egypt. He can’t travel alone .. an’ I can’t go.”
“I’ll be there tomorrow,” Alopex said.
She put the phone in her pocket and went on to Murray’s room. Merlin could still feel the warmth of Nick’s lips on her own, the sense of being torn – he wanted to be with her yet had to leave, and he refused to even think about changing his mind. As he’d drawn back, his eyes had been dark with gentle warning. She’d smiled quickly and nodded, easing his fears. She would stay in San Francisco while he went into danger.
She took comfort knowing it wouldn’t be for too long. Soon Alopex would be there as well.
Merlin knocked on the door. “Murray? You awake yet?”
At first, she heard nothing and shook her head, sighing over the loss of the pin sharp sense of hearing she’d had only last week. She put her ear to the wood and, faintly, heard a soft groaning. Merlin straightened abruptly, her heart leaping in alarm.
Fortunately, the door wasn’t locked. She rushed in and her first thought was that he’d been attacked in the night because there was blood everywhere.
“Murray! What happened?” she demanded, hurrying to the bed.
He lifted his head. “Nosebleed. Lots of them. All night. They won’t stop.”
Merlin stared as blood began to pour from his nose again. Rachel wasn’t here. There was only Merlin and Andrew.
“It’s started, hasn’t it?” Murray said quietly. “I’m bleeding to death .. slowly.”
She didn’t know what to say.