Wednesday / Thursday
“What time is it back home?” Rachel yawned.
Nick glanced at his watch. It was eight in the morning at Heathrow. “Midnight,” he replied and Rachel’s shoulders dropped a little. “Kat’s probably fast asleep,” he added, guessing the reason for her disappointment.
Rachel’s eyes glinted with maternal warning. “There had better be no probably about it.”
Nick thought back to how he’d been at that age, and wisely made no further comment. Fifteen, nearing sixteen, free of his father’s oppression … He hadn’t exactly run wild but fast asleep at midnight? No way.
They had collected their bags from the carousel and were waiting for Derek and Anna to return from the car rental desk. It was a sunny day but not warm. The temperature might inch up into the middle fifties later; for now, it was cold. Derek shivered abruptly as he came toward them.
“Ready?” he asked, handing one set of keys to Nick.
Rachel nodded. “Nick and I discussed our game plan the hour before we landed. As the Dalys, Phil and Rebekka were all based in Surrey, we’ll head down there so I can meet with family doctors an’ Nick can talk with friends an’ family. Then, depending on time, we’ll drive north an’ clear up any loose ends at the hospitals, an’ meet you guys later at the hotel.”
Derek considered briefly but not from a logistical angle. Nick was in the lead on this one. “Very well. Anna and I will go into town and see what we can discover at the Institute and the British Museum. I’ll call you to let you know where we’re staying.”
“An’ I’ll call Alex, bring her more into the loop,” Nick added. “You think we’ll get it all done in a day?”
“It depends. What time is our flight tomorrow?”
“Four fifteen. Means we have to be back here by one fifteen max.”
“We’re wasting valuable time,” Anna declared. “We can get it all done, provided we don’t stand around talking.”
“Later,” Rachel and Nick chorused and, grinning, headed toward the rental parking lot.
Derek paused. “Anna, occasionally I do have to talk to my team.”
“Sure, an’ that’s why they invented cell phones. You said it – Nick’s in the lead. He should be talking to us .. an’ he’s just left. C’mon!” she urged, tugging at his sleeve.
Rather bemused, Derek followed after her.
Merlin yawned too. “What did you learn? Anything?”
Profelis stretched out his legs. “They’re a cohesive team. I wouldn’t say they think with one mind but they certainly work toward one goal. They’re four distinct personalities. Phil is abrasive but he is the most angry. I made allowances. The Professor is focused and dedicated, rather dry. His wife is a quiet one – she didn’t say much but a lot goes on behind her eyes. And Rebekka is very open. Like a book. What surprised me .. and them, I think, is that they waited in the forest and crossed the river together. When I asked them why they’d done that, they couldn’t tell beyond ‘it felt right’. They’d always explored together, this was simply an extension. Of course, the Professor exaggerated. ‘Always’ is actually only two years. That’s when Rebekka joined the team. Phil’s been with the Dalys for four years. However, I got the impression that, if they hadn’t died, this team would have gone on a lot longer with no change. I pressed them on the point. Phil had arrived in the forest first an’ had to wait six days before Rebekka joined him. He was abusive to me but I wouldn’t let him off. It turns out that, at the back of his mind, he did wonder about whether the curse could have had teeth. So he hung around to see if any of the others arrived. When Rebekka turned up, they both waited for the next .. an’ the Professor refused point blank to go anywhere without his wife.”
“Nice. Loyal. What about the dig?”
“It’s all in his notes. Hearing him talk about it is like an audio recording playback. But, when asked about certain aspects, when forced – gently – to see the same events from a different angle, I did learn some new information. Our half naked blue man is also darkness. When Professor Daly broke a hole thru the door an’ shone his flashlight inside, the beam lit only darkness .. an’ then detail became apparent. He thought it was his eyes. It wasn’t.”
“Darkness. Cool. That should show up well in the sunshine of the desert.”
“Nights in the desert, however, are particularly dark,” Profelis commented. “What of your researches?”
“Have you seen Derek’s library?” she complained. “Murray an’ I were looking at books all afternoon an’ evening. We’ve hardly made a dent in it. As yet, as suspected, not a single mention, however obscure, of a half naked blue man or a freelance dark cloud.” She sighed, propping her chin in her hand. “Will you keep watch over Murray tonight? I’m beat. I just don’t have the reserves I used to.”
“Sure. Go to bed,” he urged. “It’s after midnight an’ Jon will be here later today.”
Merlin went to bed but first she locked down the house. Nick would never forgive her if the place got robbed while they slept.
The temperature did start to rise. Nick negotiated his way around the M25 in the direction of Redhill. It was not a fast task and time was important to them. Eventually, they drove into Redhill and the traffic eased considerably. Murray had given them everything he’d known – addresses and phone numbers of family, names of friends. Nick left Rachel at the corner of Maple Avenue then went on to the first address on his list – Mr and Mrs Bateman.
Rachel was glad of the chance to stretch her legs after such a long flight and, it seemed, an equally long drive. The clinic was about halfway along the road and she pushed open the door which chimed a greeting. The woman behind the reception desk looked up at her.
“Can I help you?”
“I certainly hope so,” Rachel replied. “I’m Dr Rachel Corrigan. I’ve just flown in from California. I understand Professor George Daly and his wife Gayle were patients here. I’m investigating why they died. Is it possible I could meet with their doctor to go thru their patient records?”
Maybe it was Rachel’s accent but the receptionist became a little flustered. “Dr Jones is doing morning surgery just now. Um .. can you wait?”
“This wouldn’t take very long. Do you know how they died?” Rachel asked quietly, aware of the waiting patients behind her.
“I know it was sudden in his case and expected in hers, although the collapse was sudden.”
Rachel nodded. “I just need to know .. if there was anything in their medical history which might have warned us it could happen. I’m only in the UK until tomorrow lunchtime an’ I have to visit two other clinics plus get up to London. I would really appreciate .. even ten minutes with Dr Jones.”
“I’ll see what I can do for you. Take a seat.”
Nick drove to the south side of town and parked outside a neat semi detached house. He paused for a moment, checking out his reflection in the mirror. Not for vanity’s sake but no one in their right mind would talk freely to a disheveled, unshaven stranger in rumpled clothes. Nick couldn’t do anything about the stubble on his chin or the sleep creases in his clothes but he combed his fingers thru his hair and made himself as presentable as he could.
He walked up the short path to the front door and pressed the bell. He heard footsteps and he took a step back. The door was opened by a young man in his early twenties. There was a resemblance to the picture of Phil Bateman Nick had on file.
“Hi there. Morning,” he began. “My name’s Nick Boyle, I’m with an organization called the Luna Foundation.”
“We’re not into religion.”
“I’m not selling it. I’m here to ask some questions about your brother.”
“Who is it, Tim?” called a voice from inside the house.
“Some man asking about Phil.”
Nick waited until an older woman joined the young man. “Yes? What about Phil?”
“Ma’am, I’m Nick Boyle. My organization has been contracted by Dr Murray Snowden to investigate your son’s death. Dr Snowden was with Phil in Egypt. I am sorry for your loss. Can you talk with me?”
Her eyes filled with tears but she nodded. “Come inside.”
In the center of London, Derek and Anna’s first stop was the National Institute.
“Ah! Dr Rayne. Yes, we’ve been expecting you.” A man held out his hand. “Gregory Reynolds, the Director.”
Derek grasped the proffered hand. “This is my colleague – ”
“I recognize you, Dr Cowley. A prestigious day for us.” Gregory Reynolds beamed happily. “The eminent Dr Cowley and the son of the illustrious Winston Rayne. Here to look into poor George’s unfortunate demise.”
“Yes,” Derek replied, flattered by the illustrious reference and feeling rather despondent at ‘son of’.
“Where would you like to start? Professor Emery said you won’t be in the city very long. Time is of the essence so we’re all standing by to offer as much assistance as we can.”
“Thank you. If you could let Anna make a start on examining the presentation material ..? Working from printouts is good as a beginning but the actual photographs would be better. I’d like to look at the auditorium.”
Reynolds blinked. “The auditorium ..? Where he .. actually died?”
“Yes,” Derek said but gave no more explanation.
“I don’t know what you’d hope to find there but .. of course.” Reynolds cast a wary look at Derek, clearly amending his opinion to that of ‘ghoul’, someone who stares overlong at road accident victims. “Jenkins! Please show Dr Rayne to the auditorium.”
“Yes, sir. This way, Dr Rayne.”
Anna was escorted in the opposite direction. “Would you have renewed George’s funding?” she asked to divert any questions about why Derek might want to go to the auditorium. She had no more idea than Reynolds did.
“Absolutely. The material he brought back .. fabulous. We’re looking around for someone to take it on. The Egyptian government has given us a provisional agreement that we can go back and continue the excavation. We just need a team leader. I don’t suppose you’d be interested?”
Anna’s eyes kindled. “Sure, I’m interested .. but there are some unusual aspects to all this. Let’s find out conclusively why George Daly, and his team, died an’ then I’ll think it over.”
Reynolds flushed and nodded. “Yes, the deaths of all of them .. as you say, unusual. For George to .. soldier on, draft an article, put together a presentation, and all the while Gayle was on life support … He was a remarkable man.”
“He was,” she agreed.
He opened a door and stood aside. “This was the office he shared with some others. That’s George’s bookcase and filing cabinet. Would you like coffee?”
“Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks.”
In the auditorium, Derek paused to look around. It wasn’t a huge room, only big. Ten rows of tiered seats, seven seats on each side of the central aisle.
“Mr Jenkins, how many people were here to see Professor Daly’s presentation?”
“They were standing at the back, sir.”
“Were you here?”
“I was,” Jenkins confirmed. “It was a brilliant presentation. A great shame he never got to finish it.”
Derek wandered toward the front and the lectern. “How did he appear?”
Jenkins thought about that. “I would say he was depressed. His voice was subdued. I’ve heard him speak before, Dr Rayne, and he had fire. He could stir people with his voice. That day .. it was what he showed us rather than what he said. Oh, don’t misunderstand, he used all the right words, it was just his voice was down. He’d lost both his assistants, gone to one funeral, and his wife was in hospital and fading despite everything the doctors tried.”
Derek nodded. “Thank you. He stood here?”
Derek put his hands around the edge of the lectern and steeled himself. Then he grasped the smooth, polished wood.
“I can’t spare you very long, Dr Corrigan.” Dr Jones looked flustered and tense. “What exactly is it that you need?”
“Your opinion on George and Gayle Daly’s medical history. I’ve had the opportunity to examine the autopsy reports an’, basically, the pathologist doesn’t know why they died. I’m meeting with him while I’m in England. Cardiac arrest could have been caused by anything. I’d like to know if there was a history of .. rheumatic fever or angina, previous cardiac problems. Any congenital abnormalities which may have led to these sudden deaths. Any pre-existing medical conditions. Their immunization record.”
He nodded. “I see. All right.” He turned to his computer screen and began to move the mouse, clicking with regular haste. “George Daly, deceased.” He leaned forward, his eyes crinkling slightly. “His immunization records were all up to date. The usual spread for Egypt. As for medical history … ” He clicked again and began to read in silence. “No mention here of angina or rheumatic fever. He never complained of problems in his chest although there was a bout of bronchitis five years back. Tonsils removed at the age of seven. Appendix removed at the age of sixteen. No congenital abnormalities. No pre-existing conditions. He was fine. A slight touch of gastritis the other year but soon sorted out. Gayle Daly, deceased.” Again he began to read. “Like her husband, her immunizations were up to date. Medical history … Oh.”
“Oh?” Rachel echoed hopefully, leaning forward.
“A termination at .. eighteen. Miscarriage at the age of twenty four. Again at twenty eight and thirty.” He shook his head. “No congenital abnormalities. No pre-existing conditions. Gastritis .. same time as George – probably some meal they both ate. Problems with her wisdom teeth – removed by dentist. Some slight deterioration in her vision which gave her headaches. She was going to see her optician. Usual aches and pains, nothing major – twisted ankle, coughs, colds. She was fine when she was here last, and that was .. a week before she flew to Egypt.”
“Why was she here then?” Rachel asked.
He studied the screen. “To have her ears syringed.”
“Oh. Well .. thank you for your time, Dr Jones.”
“You’re welcome, Dr Corrigan. And .. good luck.”
Nick learned nothing much from Phil Bateman’s mother except that her son was a good, hardworking boy who loved his job and adored Professor Daly. He’d felt privileged to be working for him and was learning a lot. He’d never had a day sick in his life. He could be abrupt sometimes but that was only because he thought and didn’t like to be interrupted. Tim was a better source of information. It was clear he had idolized his brother and was still struggling to come to terms with his loss but he spoke at length about Phil, his life, his work, his friends and hobbies. He liked playing soccer and rugby. He enjoyed a pint at his local pub. He looked forward to traveling and he’d loved Egypt.
Nick was taken to see Phil’s bedroom but it didn’t tell him anything. A few posters on the wall. A neatly made bed. A bookcase with thick books on Egypt and archeology, a biography of Flinders Petrie. Tim gave him the names and addresses of Phil’s drinking buddies, and then escorted Nick to the door.
“If you find out anything, let us know,” Tim requested.
“Sure thing. Thanks for your time an’ .. I’m sorry for your loss.”
He drove next to the first address Tim had given him but Nick was already reaching some conclusions. Lifestyle played no part in these deaths. He was willing to bet that Rachel would find nothing in the medical records either.
Yep. He’s definitely more blue, Anna thought. The printout was more shading toward green. But I still cannot ID this guy. The eminent Dr Cowley .. yeah, right. At a complete loss. Gee, I hope Derek’s having better luck. Why the auditorium ..?
Derek jerked slightly. He saw rows of faces, pale ovals in the reduced light. The expressions on those faces were engrossed, rapt, amazed. Then .. a sheen of darkness, like a hint of mist .. rising before his eyes. The vision crashed on. The faces were sideways, bodies rising in alarm. People shouting. And the darkness growing, getting thicker … And yet, and yet .. it didn’t seem quite real. It was almost imagination, an echo or a .. a memory. The room faded away and color returned.
“Are you all right, sir?” Jenkins asked in a cautious voice.
“I’m fine, thank you. Could you show me to Dr Cowley now?”
Derek frowned as he followed Jenkins from the auditorium. Darkness … why did it seem so familiar to him? He knew he’d never been to the tomb so it couldn’t be that he’d seen it there. It didn’t feel like a memory to him at all, and yet .. there was something familiar about it. Derek was almost on intimate terms with the many various forms which evil took – this, for example, was very similar to the evil god spirit imprisoned in the sword of Amaterasu. Similar, but different. There were innumerable entities who became smoke or mist in order to travel, only manifesting in solid form when they were about to attack or feed, or both.
But this .. he couldn’t put his finger on it. He’d never seen it yet it felt damnably familiar. It certainly felt familiar to George. Derek felt he should recognize it .. somehow. And it didn’t gel at all with the image of the skirted, blue skinned man painted in such detail on the tomb wall.
Maybe Anna had made progress.
She looked up as the door opened and he stepped inside. “Hi. Learn anything?”
“I’m not sure.” Derek watched her. “Are those the photographs?”
“These are them,” she confirmed. “Apart from the colors being slightly more accurate, there’s nothing new.”
“Gayle handled them?” he inquired.
“She was the team snapper so I’d have to say yeah. If she didn’t, one of the others certainly did.” She frowned as he approached the desk. “What are you doing?”
Derek hesitated for a fraction of a second. “One reason I live this .. eventful life is because I have a degree of psychic ability. I occasionally see things when I handle objects touched by another. More often, the visions just happen with no warning. It’s why I went to the auditorium – George had been there, touched the lectern. Maybe I can get something from these photographs.”
To her credit, Anna didn’t laugh. She took a step back and gestured at the prints. “Go ahead.”
He studied them and chose the close up of the tomb painting, figuring that Gayle had studied this as much as any of them. Derek put his fingers on the edge of the photograph.
Anna was fascinated by this. This was easier to believe in than a curse. The cops used psychics to find murderers and their victims. That was proof of a kind. She watched Derek go rigid for a moment, his eyes growing hard with concentration yet not seeing the bookcase in front of him. A frown flickered rapidly on his forehead. Then, just as suddenly, it stopped and he blinked.
“Well ..?” she asked on a breath.
“I wish I could,” Nick said with a rueful smile, “but I’m hitting the road. I dare not take you up on your offer.”
Simon Youle shrugged. “Soft drink then.”
“You talked me into it. Soda. Thanks.”
“Water?” Simon queried, frowning.
“Be right back.”
Nick looked round The Fox and Firkin pub as Simon went to the bar. There was something about English pubs which set them aside from American bars. The atmosphere was different. People came to the pub to do more than drink. For instance, he was here to ask questions about Rebekka Staleygate.
His talks with Phil’s friends had yielded a lot of background and nothing to explain his death. Phil was happy to go out drinking and clubbing but he was not into illegal substances and never drank ‘on duty’. He had no short term girlfriends or any serious relationships. His friends were all staggered at his death – most had been with him when it had happened. Confusion, regret, sadness .. but no explanations. Nick had moved on to Rebekka’s parents.
Another heartbroken couple and an older brother. The house had been still and silent in grief. Photographs had decorated the walls, a poignant dagger in the heart which just went deeper every time someone looked at them. Nick learned of a bright, brilliant girl, always academic, did well at school and university. Working for George Daly had been an honor and a privilege. Rebekka had written home regularly, praising the Professor for his dedication and kindness. Nick had asked if he could read the last letter she’d sent them; they let him. No clues. Not even a joking mention of a curse. She’d written about Gayle Daly’s illness and that she was on her own to finish up for the season, she’d be home soon …
It had been the brother again who’d provided the names and addresses of Rebekka’s closest friends, and Nick had tried two of them but they were at work. Simon Youle was third and ‘between jobs’ so he’d been home. He’d invited Nick to the pub.
“Here you go.” Simon put down the glass and sat opposite him. “What do you want to know?”
Nick didn’t answer for a moment then said, “I’m trying to find out why Rebekka died an’ looking into her lifestyle may provide some clues but .. having spoken with her parents an’ brother, I don’t think I’ll learn anything which’ll help me.”
Simon lit a cigarette and offered the pack; Nick shook his head. “I knew Bekky from school. We were in the same class. She was clever. Outstripped the rest of us. Everyone knew she’d go places, and she did. Away to university, for a start. Then off to Egypt. This was her second trip out there with the Professor. You think something out there killed her? A bug or something? Everyone knows you can’t drink the water. King Tut’s Revenge and all that.”
“It’s possible she was bitten by something .. but unlikely. Did you see her when she got home?”
“She called me, arranged to meet up for a meal. We did. Had a great evening catching up.”
“Did she say anything about the dig?”
“Lots. Hard to shut her up! She liked the government man who’d joined them. It was very hot and dry. The tomb was amazing. Always cool in there. Underground, see? She never once said she’d been ill or been bitten.” He looked down into his pint glass. “Can’t believe she’s gone.”
“Was she .. reckless in any way? Into narcotics?”
“Bekky? Give over! She wasn’t a prude, or straight laced. She liked a drink and a laugh but definitely no drugs. The Professor would’ve sacked her and that job meant the world to her.”
“Lasting relationships? Boyfriends?”
“I was the nearest she had to a boyfriend. I’d known her for years but we were only friends. No romantic trysts except a drunken kiss every so often.” He laughed quickly at the memory. “And we laughed about that the day after.”
It was another washout. Nick finished his drink and made his escape as soon as he could, then walked back to the rental car. He called Alex to bring her up to speed and advise their flight times, then he called Rachel. He won his bet.
Rachel had visited Rebekka’s family doctor and Phil’s general practitioner. Her head was reeling with useless medical facts. Rebekka was prone to sinusitis. Phil had a weakness in his wrists, he wore supports and never did handstands. None of them had any condition which, left unchecked, might have killed them. There was no history of heart problems, brain, liver, or renal problems, epilepsy or diabetes in any of the families. It came back to the conclusion she’d made right at their start – they shouldn’t have died.
She waited for Nick to pick her up from the same corner where he’d left her, then, as they drove to a village north east of Redhill, they exchanged what they’d learned.
“In a way, it has tied up the loose ends,” Rachel commented. “We know there was no medical reason. It wasn’t lifestyle. Therefore … ”
“It’s the curse. Murray was right all along.”
“I wonder how he’s doing,” Rachel murmured. “What time is it back home?”
‘Back home’ brought an unaccustomed yearning to Nick’s heart. He glanced at the clock on the dash. “Five thirty,” he said. “Why don’t you call an’ ask?”
“It’s a little early,” she pointed out.
“Peri won’t be guarding him alone. She’ll have Profelis there too by now.”
“Why ..?” Rachel frowned. “She’s perfectly capable of guarding Murray on her own.”
Nick thought quickly. “She’s pregnant. Needs her sleep. He’ll be there as backup during the night.”
“What about Aquila?” Rachel asked next.
“Training.” He was ready for that one.
“Oh, of course. I’ll leave it another thirty minutes,” she decided. “She needs her sleep an’ six is kinder than five thirty.”
“Not by much,” Nick grinned. “You spoken with Derek?”
She shook her head. “Shall I call him? We still don’t know where we’re sleeping tonight.”
Nick considered. “If Anna wasn’t with us, we’d be staying at the London Legacy house.”
“I’ll call him. His head’s stuck in the past, Nick,” she commented. “He’s most likely forgotten all about the hotel.”
“It was .. the tomb,” Derek replied. “I saw George and two others, presumably Phil and Rebekka. I didn’t see Murray. I didn’t hear anything. But I felt .. cool. Almost cold. And the atmosphere was strangely alive.” He rubbed at his arm. “Like ants walking on my skin.” Derek smiled suddenly. “I know that isn’t the proof you want so dearly but .. it works for me. I’ve been in tombs before and I have felt awe and wonderment but never that the air is alive. At least,” he qualified, “not without valid reason.”
Anna nodded slowly. “Me neither.”
His cell phone began to beep. “Yes,” he said into it. “Ah, Rachel. Let me guess. Nothing.” He listened, nodding. “Much as I suspected from the beginning .. as did you. The evidence,” he glanced at Anna, “such as it is, is starting to stack up behind Murray.” He listened again. “No, I haven’t. I’ll do it now. Where are you?” He paused. “Very well. I’ll call you in an hour.”
“Rachel found nothing?” Anna ventured as he put the phone away.
“Neither has Nick. They’re on their way to Burnham to talk with George and Gayle’s friends but I don’t suppose they’ll learn anything of value. I have to make a phone call, Anna, to arrange our accommodation for tonight, then we’ll head over to the British Museum. See if their experts can identify the blue skinned man. I assume you’re finished here?”
“I guess. I’ve looked thru all his research, Derek, for the past three years. He was definitely trying to find something .. big. Something which would put his name in the history books. Till now, I would’ve said he’d succeeded.”
“Till now?” he queried.
“Now I’m not so sure,” Anna admitted with a taut shrug. “I mean .. if this is a genuine curse, it’ll never be published. Tourism to Egypt would plummet, take a nosedive. They rely on tourist revenue. The government will brush George’s discovery under the nearest rug. And it is looking like .. it’s real.”
Slowly, Derek nodded his agreement. “While I make my call, see if Gregory Reynolds will let us take all this away with us. I’d like Nick to go thru it.”
Anna regarded him. “You don’t trust me to do it?”
“Of course, but Nick is not an expert. He looks for, and sees, different things to us. We see the planning and the archeology. Nick sees .. the rest. Between us, we cover the bases.”
“Okay,” she accepted.
They left the office and went in opposite directions. Derek found an empty room and called the London Legacy house.
“Derek, you’re in town.”
“Yes, Paul, I am, and thank you for interceding on my behalf with the Institute.”
“I also need four rooms in a hotel tonight. Can you pull some strings?”
“I’ll go one better. You can stay at my place. I have four spare rooms. Not big but they have beds. And I really would like to know about what you’re doing. Help some, if I can.”
“I have a non-Legacy member with me, although Anna does know about the Luna Foundation.”
“Fair warning,” Paul agreed. “Anna. Anna who?”
“Oh, the Dr Anna Cowley, notable archeologist. Right kinda person to have on the team. I’ll be leaving here at .. six thirty, be home by seven thirty. I’ll expect you some time after that.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it and your offer to help.”
“No problem. It’s kinda nice to get back into the reason why we exist an’ away from the day job. Later,” he said and hung up.
Derek met Anna returning with the Director and he wasn’t looking happy.
“Dr Rayne, I really do appreciate that you’re only in London until tomorrow but I cannot permit the removal of Professor Daly’s research notes,” he began and Anna looked exasperated. “The Institute funded his expeditions. The notes belong to us. Even before the Professor died, the notes were half ours. You may examine them at length here, but – ”
“Mr Reynolds, my father was a member of this Institute.”
“I realize that.”
“I am a member of this Institute,” Derek went on. “Therefore, these notes partly belong to me. I will take full responsibility for them and see they are returned to you personally in the morning.”
Reynolds looked a little hunted. “You cannot finish your examination here?”
“Not all my team is here, so no.”
“I’ll require you to sign a receipt.”
“I’ll be glad to do so. Anna, will you begin packing the material?”
“Be glad to,” she smiled.
“Peri? Hi, it’s Rachel.”
“Hi, Rachel. How was your flight?”
Rachel had to think – it seemed like weeks ago. “Good. Long but good. How’s Murray?”
“Holding it together. He’s doing good work for us. A little under the weather but it’s under control. When are you flying on to Paris?”
“Tomorrow, around four. So far, we’ve learned nothing to give
credence to a scientific explanation.
Under the weather .. could the attack have started on him?”
“It looks that way.”
“Well, that does tend to swing the balance toward the curse being real.”
“I’d say that’s pretty much for sure.”
“Nick an’ I are just about to talk to the Dalys’ friends then we’re heading back into London. I’ll get Derek to call you later. We’ll have a conference on findings.”
“Okay. I’ll have Murray on standby. He’d like to take part. The more he knows about this, the more determined he’ll be to fight it.”
“We’re here,” Nick said quietly.
“Peri, I have to go. Till tonight.”
The line clicked dead and Nick glanced at her. “The attack has started?”
“She said it looks that way,” Rachel confirmed.
“Then he’s in the best place,” Nick remarked. “C’mon. Let’s go beat our heads against yet another brick wall.”
“Nice place,” Nick remarked five hours later. “Convenient.”
“You tried driving in London just lately?” Paul Emery commented. “It was different in Dr Sloan’s day. Hell, it was different when I took over. Now it’s easier to walk. Rachel,” he greeted, “good to see you again.”
“You too, Paul,” she smiled. “Is Derek here yet?”
“Lounge,” he pointed. “Can I get you folks a drink?”
“I could sink a beer,” Nick grinned. “I don’t know what it is about the English but they just love to have us meet them in pubs.”
Paul laughed. “Neutral territory,” he winked. “Rachel, anything for you?”
“Tea would be lovely.”
“Go on thru, make yourself comfortable.”
They went into the lounge and Derek looked up from his place on the floor. “Ah, good, you’re here.”
“That sounds like a heads up for a long night,” Nick said, looking at the various heaps of files, notebooks and folders spread around Derek and Anna.
“For all of us,” Derek replied. “These have to be returned in the morning. We have a lot of reading to do.”
“Derek, I called Peri to see how Murray’s doing,” Rachel reported. “She said the attack on him has started.”
“How is he?” Anna asked quickly.
“Holding it together. A little under the weather but it’s under control. I said I’d have you call her later to update her an’ Murray on what we’ve found. She said it’d help his determination to fight an’ I have to agree. He’ll need to be in shape before he goes back to Egypt.”
“You think that’s a good idea?” Anna queried.
Rachel considered. “Ordinarily, no. My advice would be to stay as far away as he could an’ let the experts deal with it. This isn’t ordinary. Murray needs to see this .. whatever it is defeated. If he doesn’t, he’ll always have doubt. He’ll wonder, deep down, if he really is free of it and, should this type of situation ever occur again, he’ll wonder if it can be beaten. He needs to go back there an’ face it down.”
“I agree too,” Derek said briskly. “Very well, once we’ve broken the back of this, I’ll call Peri.”
Paul returned with the drinks. “Your tea an’ your beer. Dinner’s in an hour. Okay, Derek, where do we start?”
It was gone midnight when Derek called home. In San Francisco, it was nearing five in the afternoon and Andrew had welcomed yet another guest to the house. Alopex had arrived an hour or so earlier and was now up to speed on the situation.
When the phone rang in the library, Merlin put it on the speaker. “Yeah, Derek. Kinda late for you guys, isn’t it?”
“It’s tomorrow for us but we still have a lot of work to do before our day is over. Murray, are you there?”
“I’m here, Derek. What have you found?”
“We’ve learned a lot; unfortunately, none of it is any use. Rachel has spoken to the family doctors of each of the victims and found nothing in any of their medical histories which could lead to them dying as they did. Tomorrow, she is visiting the morgue to talk over the autopsies with the pathologist who did them. Nick has visited the families and friends. Again, there was nothing in the lifestyles to predicate death by sudden cardiac arrest, or, in Gayle’s case, total system failure. Anna and I have been to the National Institute and the British Museum. We have George’s research from the past four years and that is what we are reading tonight. The British Museum was unable to identify the painting in the tomb. What about you? I hear you’ve been doing good work.”
Murray glanced at Merlin who smiled at him. “We’ve been raiding your library,” he replied. “So far, there are no references to a blue skinned man or obscure blue skinned gods.”
“I may have something to add to that,” Derek said. “See if there are any references to .. darkness. A dark mist or fog.”
Merlin glanced at Profelis. “Okay,” she said.
“How do you know this?” Murray inquired.
“I saw it, in a vision,” Derek replied. “It seemed familiar, certainly to George and I felt as if I should know it too .. but I don’t.”
“Are you sure about that, Dr Rayne?” Profelis asked.
There was a pause. “As sure as I can be,” Derek then answered.
“All right,” Murray nodded. “I’m sure I didn’t read anything about darkness today but I’ll keep a lookout for it when I start again. When are you going to Cairo?”
“Maybe Friday, most likely Saturday,” Derek said. “I know we all want this resolved but we’ve been pushing ourselves very hard, Murray. We could use some time to catch our breath. It’s often in the pauses that the facts settle into a pattern. And, let us not forget, you need to prepare.”
Murray blinked. “You mean you will let me come to Egypt?”
“That was never in doubt, Murray. We are covering the bases, doing the legwork. As Nick would say if he were here instead of in his room studying, we’ll get to Cairo and hit the ground running. Do your research, stay calm, and make your plans. Be in Cairo either Saturday night or Sunday morning.”
“Not before then?” Murray queried.
“Those of us who have never seen the pyramids or the Great Sphinx must be given a little time to sightsee,” Derek chided, his voice mild. “But Monday .. we will be heading south.”
“Okay, Derek, we’ll stay on the books till it’s time for Murray to head for warmer climes,” Merlin said. “Good luck with the studies.”
“Thank you, and goodnight.”
The line went dead and Merlin looked round the library table. “Let’s get on with it. It’s all hands to the pump.”
“Where are you going?” Murray asked as she got to her feet.
“To tell Andrew we’ll eat at seven thirty. Murray, you’re our expert. You need to stay here an’ supervise the guys.”
As soon as she was alone, Merlin called Derek again. “Profelis has spoken with George Daly an’ his team. When they cracked a hole in the door an’ shone the flashlight inside, all they could see was darkness. Then it faded. Derek, are you really sure you haven’t seen it before?”
Again, he paused. “I feel as if I have .. but I don’t remember it.”
“Maybe you should talk with Rachel. You could be blocking it. She might help you see clearly.”
“Yes, but not tonight.”
“So long as you do it before you get to the dig site. You need to know what to look for.”
“Yes, Peri,” he said obediently. “How is Murray really?”
“He’s okay. We have him stabilized right now, enough to travel, but he isn’t cured. Apart from that hanging over him, he’s fine.”
She could hear Derek’s frown. “What is setting him apart ..? With all the others, the attack happened fast and was lethal. Although Gayle lingered, she collapsed suddenly and did die. But not Murray. What is protecting him?”
Merlin shrugged uneasily. “I wish I could say right now it’s us .. but that isn’t true. We’re guarding him, sure, but we’re not granting any kinda immunity. I’ll get the guys on it.”
“Who else is there?”
“Profelis an’ Alopex.”
“Ah. Professor Ellis and ..?” he queried.
She grinned. “We told Murray it’s a nickname. He’s okay with Alopex. An’ so is Andrew.”
“Keep a close watch on Murray. I don’t want to lose any more friends,” Derek ordered.
“Aye, skipper,” Merlin replied. “Good luck.”
“I think we’ll need it,” Derek said ominously.