The Further Adventures of Janice and Mel:
The Gabrielle Stele
by Judy (Wishes)
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The Gabrielle Stele, Part 1
"Mel, pst." The whisper comes from outside the tent wall.
I have been sitting at a low desk translating the Arabic text Ahmet has given me. "Duties of the Moslem Wife." My Arabic is rusty, and I've been making notes of words I need to look up later.
"Mel!" Again the urgent whisper. "Melinda, it's Janice." I unwind my long legs and rise. The unaccustomed robe winds around my ankles, causing me to trip.
I whisper to the blank tent wall. "Janice, I'm here."
There is a ripping sound as a long blade cuts through the heavy woven fabric. A small figure dressed in khaki and brown leather slips through the rent, precious wide-brimmed hat concealing hair and face.
"Ahmet is not going to like that," I comment, referring to the damage.
"His mother and aunts wove the material for this tent."
"Who cares what that kidnapper 'lahks,'" Janice answers,
taking a shot at both Ahmet and my Carolina drawl.
Wanting to be fair, I say, "The word kidnapper might be a little strong. . ."
"Do you want to be here?"
"No, not really," I answer honestly.
"Didn't he force you to come here from Cairo?"
"No, coming here was voluntary. I wanted to experience the
life of the nomad, the romance of the Bedouin. . . ." At
Janice's glare, I stop that line of talk. "It was STAYING
I objected to!"
"Your message made it sound like a matter of life or death," Janice reminds me.
"More a matter of. . . ." Knowing that I am blushing, and hating it, I turn away. Janice grabs my arm and spins me around to face her. Her expression is grim, and I feel an almost electric energy radiating from her slight frame.
"Did this Ahmet or anyone else touch you? If they did. . . ." A dangerous look appears in her green eyes.
"No, oh, no." My cheeks are burning, and I know I'm
blushing an even deeper shade of scarlet. "Ahmet wants.
. . .wants to marry me. He would never. . . . I mean. . . ."
Embarrassed, I fumble with my glasses, a habit I'm trying to
"Men!" Janice huffs. "Well, let's go. I left a truck just over the next dune. Borrowed it from the British Consulate. Let's get back before they notice the loan."
She grasps my upper arm and propels me toward the new tent door. "I can't," I say, pulling back.
"You want to marry this guy?" Janice asks, keeping her tight grip.
"No, but he has something I need," I begin to explain.
Janice snorts, a very unladylike sound. "Mel, any man. . . ."
"No. No. He took something I had, and I want it back.
It's in his tent." Janice glares at me, and I force myself
to meet her gaze. Her eyes drop first.
"Okay." Janice relinquishes her hold on my arm and motions for me to precede her. "Where's his tent?"
"Beside this one." I grab up the Moslem head dress Ahmet has asked me to wear outside the tent. I bend over to fit through the small tear and lead the way to Ahmet's tent. A quick slit with Janice's knife, and we enter. I cluck my tongue at the additional damage.
Inside the tent, I see the small chest beside Ahmet's sleeping mat. I pick it up to try the lid and find it locked. Janice reaches out with her knife and casually forces the lid. When I meet her eyes, she asks, "What?" I open the lid and take out what I seek. It is a small, flat slab of stone, rough where it has been broken from a larger tablet.
Interest lights Janice's eyes. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Yes, if you think it's a fragment of a stone tablet or stele."
I pronounce it 'stay-lay,' as my father taught me.
Janice's hands trace the carved symbols. "Where did you get it? Never mind. Escape first, talk later."
As if taking their cue from her words, angry voices rise at the back of the tent. I freeze, clutching the stone in my hand. "Move," Janice orders. She grabs the stone and sticks it in her trousers pocket. "Go!" She pushes me toward the front of the tent.
Fahdi, Ahmet's very large brother, blocks the opening. I follow Janice's glance to the back of the tent, where another large man, an uncle, I think, is squeezing through the hole. No indecision, Janice butts Fahdi in the stomach and, as his head bows within her reach, she grabs his Bedouin head dress and twists it around to cover his eyes. She grabs my hand, and we run out of the tent. Janice's eyes dart around and land on a young boy leading two beautiful white horses, horses which are Ahmet's pride and joy.
"Can you ride?" Janice asks.
"Oh, no, not Ahmet's horses," I say, understanding what she means to do.
Then, "Yes, I can ride."
Janice shoots me a doubtful glance, but asks no questions. The boy is approaching, and Janice grabs the reins from his hands and shoves me toward the saddle. I mount and see Janice struggle to get her boot in the left stirrup. I'm thinking we're lucky these are Arabians, not the tall thoroughbreds we ride back home, as Ahmet's brother and uncle and half a dozen cousins come at us on the run. With colorful robes about to surround us, Janice gains the saddle at last. I swat the rump of her mount and kick my own into a gallop. We thunder past the men and out of the camp. Janice grasps the reins in her right hand and holds on for dear life with her left. Leaning low over my mount, I pull up beside her. Janice lets go of the saddle long enough to point to our right.
We race up the dune, the thick sand making the going difficult
for our horses. I look over my right shoulder and see that three
riders are already in pursuit.
We have reached the top of the dune, and I see the truck parked below. With some difficulty, Janice pulls back on the reins and throws herself off the prancing horse. I dismount and release my horse as Janice lets hers go as well. The horses whirl and gallop toward the camp. Janice pulls out a cannon of a pistol and, before I can stop her, snaps off three quick rounds over the heads of our pursuers. The riders veer off course to grab the reins of Ahmet's white Arabians.
We slide down the dune to the truck. Janice leaps in, and I've
barely thrown myself into the passenger seat when she pops the
truck into gear. Two of the riders crest the hill. The truck
slides and struggles with the sand before its fat tires dig in.
Our pursuers pull up level with the window on my side, and I
hear Ahmet's brother cursing in Arabic. Finally we hit the hard-packed
sand of the Cairo Road and leave the riders behind.
Janice keeps the accelerator floored, and the truck bucks as she shifts gears. It swerves sharply as she takes one hand off the wheel to settle her bush hat more securely. Forcing the truck back on course, Janice gives a whooping laugh, a sound of pure exhilaration.
I lean against the passenger side door and wonder if I was safer
in Ahmet's camp.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 2
Having returned the truck to a street near the British Consulate, Janice accompanies me to the Royal Cairo Hotel. As we near the front entrance, Janice puts out an arm to stop me. "Is there another entrance?" she asks.
Puzzled, I say, "I don't really know."
"You can bet the help doesn't come in the front door." Janice leads the way into an alley beside the hotel. I follow, stepping gingerly over trash-and other things not to be mentioned-and we come to a door marked "service" in Arabic. "This way," Janice says, and we enter the hotel from the alley. Janice finds the stairs, and we walk to my room.
Janice immediately throws herself on the bed and stretches out,
hands folded behind her head. Looking around the room, she grins.
"Is this how an assistant curator at the British-Egyptian
Museum lives? Do YOU need an assistant?"
I frown at the sight of her sandy boots on the gold and white bedspread, but say nothing. I myself sit on one of the replica 23rd. dynasty chairs. I'm still wearing the bright robes given me by Ahmet, but I remove the traditional Moslem head dress and lay it on the dressing table. I remove my glasses and shake out my hair.
"You look like Xena now," Janice comments.
Janice says, "I sometimes forget that you never got to see her."
"No," I retort, "I just got the bruises and sore muscles."
"It's hard to believe all that really happened," Janice
confesses. "And that we were part of it."
"YOU were part of it," I say. "Then afterward you took off for the States so quickly. . . ."
"You could have come with me. I had to try to find that idiot who took the scrolls." Janice shakes her head, her expression turning fierce as she remembers the accident that cost her those hard-won treasures.
"No luck?" I ask, already knowing the answer.
"I found his family. That was an experience I'll never forget, but they hadn't seen him. He's probably still running around Europe pretending he's General Patton or something. But after the war is over, I'll find him."
Feeling guilty, I try to explain, "I'm sorry I didn't come
with you after what we said about being partners. But I had already
applied for this job with the museum, and when it came through.
. . ."
"It was too good to pass up," Janice finishes, "especially for someone you barely knew."
I say, "You came quickly enough when I sent word I was in trouble."
"Well," Janice mumbles, "I was in the neighborhood." She sits up, all energy again, and pulls the stone fragment from her pocket. "Now tell me about this thing. It looks like an ordinary ostracum to me. Where did you get it, and why is it important?"
I lick my lips. I put on my glasses. I remove and clean my glasses. When I put them back on, Janice is still waiting. "It's from the museum. I guess I stole it."
Janice's eyes widen, and her grin returns. "You GUESS you
"I stole it. It was in a box of ostraca I was given to translate and catalog." I look everywhere except at Janice. Whatever will she think of me?
"D'you have any more of these lying around?"
"No," I say, "just that one. The others were ordinary ostraca, limestone chips from a workers' village near Thebes. They bore records of transactions, lists of barter items, that type of thing. An interesting look at the life of the people of the New Kingdom. Kind of like memos out of someone's wastebasket."
"But hardly worth stealing?" Janice asks. She turns the piece over in her hand. It is roughly rectangular, smooth on one side, and covered with lines of hieroglyphics on the other. Janice looks at me questioningly.
"I saw right away that something about that piece wasn't
right. You probably see it, too," I add.
Janice continues to study the stone. "Well, ostraca were chips left over when blocks of limestone were quarried or shaped. Then workers wrote on them. But the writing on this piece, it goes right to the edges, and some of the glyphs at the edges are incomplete."
"Right!" I agree, excitement making my voice tremble. "It was broken AFTER the hieroglyphics had been put on. It was part of a larger piece, a stele, I think. And it's not a mere list or inventory. It's part of a story. And the language the story is told in is Greek!"
"Come on, sister!" Janice snorts in disbelief. "You may, and I say may, be a better translator than I am, but I can tell ancient Greek writing from Egyptian hieroglyphics."
"Okay, those are hieroglyphics," I agree. I lean toward Mel. "But the language represented by those hieroglyphics is Greek."
"How can that be?"
"You know how hieroglyphics represent language, of course."
"I do," Janice says, "but explain as if I didn't."
"Okay, let's see. Most people think of hieroglyphics as picture writing. All writing probably started out that way, with each picture representing a particular thing."
"Pictographs. You draw a tree to represent a tree, a deer to represent a deer," Janice offers.
"Right." I smile and go on. "It probably started out as sympathetic magic, a way to gain power over the environment." At Janice's impatient frown, I cut myself off and return to the topic. "Anyway, over time, the pictures or pictographs became more and more stylized until they no longer looked like the thing they represented."
"They became symbols."
"Yes, symbols. And not just symbols for people and things, but for actions and time and place. Then the Egyptians took it one step farther. They started using the symbols to represent sounds and syllables."
"Like our letters," she says confidently.
"That's the idea, only Egyptian hieroglyphics form a more complex system. Some of the symbols represent single sounds, like our letters. Some represent whole syllables. Then there are word signs for whole words. There are even special signs that tell what kind of sign precedes or follows it." I run out of breath.
Janice studies the markings on the stone. "So you're saying that someone used the Egyptian writing system to write Greek words."
I nod vigorously and wait.
"I think. . . .I think someone was dictating in Greek, and someone else wrote the story down using the Egyptian writing system." I wait for Janice to laugh, but she doesn't.
"Who knows about this stone?" she asks instead.
Before I can answer, there's loud pounding on the door. "Open up. British Security officers!"
"Anyone you want to talk to?" Janice asks, as shoulders are placed with force against the door.
I shake my head, and I know my eyes are large behind my lenses.
"Then let's go." Janice bounds off the bed. "Take
anything you'll need for a couple of days. Money would be nice."
I grab a small case that lies near the dresser and a small photograph
from the night table. Shoving the photo into the case, I say,
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 3
Janice leads the way to the window, where I look down. "We're on the third floor," I say.
She smiles and tilts her head. "What's your problem? Never heard of a ledge?" Janice steps out of the window and onto a six-inch ledge. She reaches her hand back inside. I look at the thick door, which shows signs of giving to the pressure against it. I grab the Moslem veil in the hand already holding my case and, breathing a small prayer, take Janice's small, warm hand.
"Aren't you going to tell me not to look down?" I whisper.
Janice's smile becomes a grin. "I figured that wasn't necessary."
Still holding my hand, she leads me along the ledge. We pass
one window, closed and apparently locked, and find the next one
open. Without bothering to check for occupants, Janice pushes
the window up and steps down into the room. A man and a woman
are lying on the bed. The man looks up, a startled expression
on his face.
"Pardon us," I say quietly. "Just passing through."
Janice opens the door a crack, and we look into the hallway, my head just above hers. There's a crash as the door of my room finally gives way to the weight of two bulky men. Janice grabs my hand and runs for the stairway door. We dash down the stairs and, on the lobby level, to the back hallway and the service door through which we entered the hotel. We run through the trash-filled alley and are soon on a narrow street. "Walk now," Janice says.
"Who were those men?" I ask. "Were they after me because I stole the fragment? Or was it about Ahmet?"
Janice shrugs, not meeting my eyes. We stroll on for some minutes,
coming to an older, non-westernized section of Cairo. "It
probably wasn't about you," Janice mumbles. "I didn't
exactly enter the country through regular channels."
Before I can react, Janice enters a narrow doorway. We stand in a small room filled with delicious smells, obviously a bakery. The proprietor, a dark little man wearing a white robe and fez stands behind a low counter. Seeing Janice, he grins and comes around the counter. He greets her in an Egyptian dialect I don't recognize, then bustles back to his baked goods. Without asking any questions, he fills a small bag with items from the counter. I recognize the Egyptian hearth bread I love and the sticky-sweet rolls that can make your teeth ache.
He takes the coins Janice offers and bows his way back behind the counter.
Janice again leading the way, we turn into the alley beside the
bake shop. "My landlord," Janice explains. Coming
to a door in the side of the building, we enter and face a narrow
flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs, we stand in a small
fetid hallway with four doors. Janice goes to the second door,
which bears a broken hasp and a padlock. "Locks aren't very
useful around here," Janice comments as she pushes the door
Hot, stale air hits us, and I recoil. Janice looks at me, an emotion I can't identify on her face. She crosses the room and pushes open a wooden shutter. I stand in the doorway and survey the room: a bed, a small table bearing an oil lamp, a chair, and nothing else. Janice pulls a zippo lighter from her jacket pocket and lights the oil lamp. "No electricity in the Arab part of the city," she explains. She motions me into the room and closes the door. I perch on the wobbly chair. "So this is your home in Cairo?" I ask.
Janice glares at me briefly, the only reply my question deserves. She has pulled the single blanket off the bed and is using her knife to remove threads that hold the top of the mattress to the side binding. She reaches inside and pulls out an old khaki knapsack. She plops on the bed and turns her attention to me. "What do you have on under that robe? Anything you can wear in public?"
In answer, I remove the Bedouin robe and head dress to reveal a simple blue cotton shirtwaist. Janice shakes her head. "Don't you even sweat?"
My own voice sounds apologetic. "I grew up in a warm climate."
"Yeah. Here." She takes a sticky roll and throws the sack to me. I take a piece of hearth bread. It's quiet for a few minutes as we eat.
Wiping her hands on the blanket, Janice says, "So finish the story."
I swallow and dab my mouth with my handkerchief. "Story?"
"The stele." Janice hold the stone in her hand, and I wonder if I'll ever again hold it in mine.
"Oh, well," I say, continuing the story from the point
of the interruption. "I noticed that the hieroglyphics
rendered Greek, or as close as that writing system could come.
There are no vowels, you know. I mentioned the fragment to Dr.
"My superior at the museum."
"And he said?"
"He didn't seem too interested, just said to check the index number on the back."
"D1338G," she says without looking at the piece.
"Yes. I did look it up and found out it was part of a tablet or small stele found at Dakhla by Gruner in 1938 and which was broken when it was removed from the site. There were a total of four pieces, this being the smallest."
"Dr. Franz Gruner?" Janice asks. "Swiss Egyptologist?"
"Don't know him. Go on."
I blink, but continue. "There was a notation that the stele had been photographed in situ. A copy of the photograph and this piece were shipped by Gruner to the museum."
"No information about what happened to the other pieces. And the photograph was missing."
Janice studies the fragment as if concentration will reveal its secrets.
"Did you talk to your boss about what you found out?"
"Yes. And he still wasn't interested. He said that lists of materials received from digs are often in error."
Janice holds out the fragment, and I rise to take it. The stone is warm to my touch. "What does it say?"
Now that we've come to this part, I feel a familiar knot in my
stomach. What if she doesn't believe me? "It's difficult
because the Greek doesn't render exactly from the Egyptians sounds.
And then to translate them to English. . . ."
"And there are no vowels," Janice says. "Just read it. Close as you can
I adjust my glasses, clear my throat and begin:
woman and her companion. bandit standing. Just then comes the chokes both man and beast That night a babe is born. Its mother hands my son to his father. Here is my seal. Take the newborn. The seal, a ring, she puts on message or of the bloodlines of the child. The storm has scattered camels and horse friend walk on. They save the water for the Finally, the smaller stumbles, says, No more and save the child, carried snug within her of water and a promise to return.
The babe brought to Pharaoh's city, to the the story told. Prince
Osorkon gives Pharaoh's stable, to return and
"There's a little of the next line, but not enough to make it out. That's the best I can do from this one piece." I've taken off my glasses, and I pinch the bridge of my nose. When I put them back on and dare a look at Janice, her green eyes are boring into me. She leans forward and snatches the stone fragment from my hand.
"Show me 'woman and her companion,'" she demands.
"'Friend.' And 'smaller.'"
I point twice more.
She sighs. "It's not much to go on. Any hint about the period?"
"Not from this piece."
"Gruner found the whole stele at Dakhla? In what year?" she asks, her voice not quite steady.
She nods and seems to come to a decision. "You have money?"
"Good. Put anything you want to keep in my knapsack, and
I'll sew it back into the mattress. NOT the money. Then we'll
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 4
I've never been in a place like this. The closest parallel I can think of would be a speakeasy, something that had been described to me by an older friend when I was in school. It's in a basement and is so dark and filled with smoke, I can't tell its dimensions. But it is crowded and filled with strange smells and sounds. Looking at the exotic and abbreviated dresses of the other women, I feel as out of place in my staid blue dress as Janice in her khaki and leather.
There are many more men than women. Some appear to be Arabs,
but all are in western dress, no traditionalists here. I feel
their eyes on us as we walk across the room.
Janice and I head to a corner where there's a small table. Janice moves a chair so her back is to the corner and looks out into the room. "Why was that man at the door so careful about letting us is?" I ask. "Why did I have to pay him?"
"Call it a cover charge." Janice laughs. "Really it was a fee for sending a message, kind of an Eastern Western Union. As for his being careful, this is a Moslem country, even if the British are in charge. A nightclub like this is a sore point with a lot of the Arabs. The owners have to be careful. This place is treated like it's a secret, even though everyone knows it's here."
A young woman in what looks like a harem outfit is standing at my elbow.
"Scotch or whiskey," Janice says, "anything western, no local brew."
The girl nods and looks at me. Water, I think. I say, "Whatever
Janice studies me but doesn't comment. Then her eyes rove the room.
"Do you know anyone here?" I ask.
"I recognize a few. Cairo, playground for spies." Before I can ask what she means, the girl returns with two glasses of amber liquid. Janice looks at me, and I pay. "Bring us another round," Janice orders. "Then go away."
The girl is back quickly. I pay her again, and she does go away.
"Not thirsty?" Janice asks, reaching for her second drink. I take a swallow of my first. Liquid fire hits the back of my throat and flows to my stomach. I gasp.
"Better stuff than usual, huh?" Janice says, as if
knowing we are in complete agreement. "Uh-oh."
"What?" I inquire when my vocal chords work again.
"U-boat at 10:00." I follow her gaze. A neat little man in a dark blue suit has entered the room and walked to the bar. "Conrad Breen," she says. "Abwehr, I think. Maybe OKW." At my raised eyebrow, she explains more succinctly, "Nazi. Bet his passport says Swiss though. I wonder why he's talking to Zeppie."
"That tall man in the evening clothes?"
"Yeah. That's Antone Zepp. Playboy of the Mediterranean. He thinks."
"Is he a Nazi, too?" I ask, wonder and anxiety warring for control of my voice.
"Zeppie? I'm not sure he's smart enough to know what a Nazi
is!" Her tone turns thoughtful. "It's strange that
Breen would bother with him though. Oops, here comes Zeppie's
object for being here."
A beautiful woman enters and seems to dominate the room. Tall and lithe, blonde hair cascading down her back, she, like the waitress, wears a harem outfit, but hers sparkles and is impossibly sheer.
Janice smiles. "Liquor isn't the only objection the devout have to this place."
Music starts, and I have to guess there are musicians somewhere in the darkness and fog on the other side of the room. The woman undulates to the complex rhythms. Her hands and fingers describe graceful movements. Every eye is on her as she bends backward until her head touches the floor. Dance finished, she runs off, and Antone Zepp follows.
Draining her second glass, Janice arches one eyebrow and says,
"See? I was right. Zeppie was here because of Tereise."
"Tereise is the dancer?"
"Dancer, ex-schoolteacher. Mainly, she's a Zionist spy."
"Is there anyone here, besides this Zepp and us, who isn't spying for someone?"
"Yep," Janice says, "and here he comes."
A short, squat man in a badly fitting western suit, but with a fez atop his bald head, threads his way to us. At every step, he glances around. He reminds me of a small dog among the big hounds.
When he reaches our table, Janice kicks out a chair for him, and he sits down. "Mel," Janice says, "I want you to meet Tekmet. He's not a spy. He's a thief."
"So glad to meet. Missy Janice make joke. . . ."
"Tekmet, since your English is better than mine, what say you drop the act?" Janice asks. Turning to me, she explains, "Tek used to work for my father, a little extraction and export work."
"Shh," Tek cautions, his eyes darting around the room before settling on me.
"Oh," Janice says, "don't worry about Mel. She's a thief, too."
Tekmet studies me with a bit more interest, then laughs. "I did work for Dr. Covington, the older Dr. Covington, for a number of years. Miss Janice was just a child then. She still enjoys teasing me, as well as others."
"You notice that Tekmet still has two hands and ten fingers,"
Janice observes. "In a country ruled by Moslem law, that
would at least mean he's a GOOD thief. Of course, the British
control the allowable punishments now. When they leave, and,
after the war, I think they will have to leave, things will be
Tekmet's eyes plead with her, then his shoulders slump. "What do you want, Janice?"
Janice grins. "I'm looking for a few things. I want you to help me find them. There could be a sum of money, a small sum, involved."
"What are you looking for?"
"The rest of this." She carefully holds the stone fragment just above the table top, where Tekmet and I can see it, but no one else in the room can.
"Oh, no," Tekmet says, vigorously shaking his head. "Not antiquities. No, this is not a good time for that. Too much pressure from too many people."
"What people?" I ask, aware that the very piece in front of us is stolen.
"Egyptian government, British Consulate, Wadh Party. . . ." He starts to tick them off on his precious ten fingers.
"How about the Nazis?" Janice asks. "They usually don't mind theft, as long as they get their cut."
"No Nazis in Egypt," Tekmet insists. "Out in the desert there's Rommel.
If Rommel takes the country, which he might, then there are many Nazis.
"The stele this belongs to," Janice reminds him. "There may be photographs or documentation that goes with it. I would like to see those things, too."
"Where is this piece from?"
She turns it over so he can read the index number on the back.
"Do you want to write it down?"
"I'll remember," he says. "How much money?"
Janice looks at me, and I shrug.
"We'll be fair," Janice says.
Tekmet nods. "I know, Janice. Where can I contact you?"
"Suud's Bake Shop in the old quarter."
"Trust you to stay near the pastries!" He rises. "It was nice to meet you," he says to me and makes a formal bow. And to Janice, "I'll always miss your father."
Janice says, "Me, too."
After Tekmet leaves, Janice is quiet. She glances at my second
drink and then at me. Since she shows no effects from the first
two, I nod. She reaches for the glass just as the lights go out.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 5
The darkness is punctuated by both shouts and laughter. I feel a small hand in mine and follow the tugging, my other hand trailing along the wall. My sense of direction is good enough to know we are not leaving the way we entered. The touch of the hand in mine is comforting, and I wonder why I trust this odd woman.
I bump my knee against metal; a stool? I cry out. "Shh!" I cover my mouth and think an unladylike oath. We continue on, still in darkness; now, with no wall to guide me, I feel blind, totally dependent on the one who leads me. Then we are out a door, and a bright moon lights the alley well enough to reveal that my companion is not Janice.
I pull my hand away and look into the brown eyes of the dancer Tereise. I look around wildly, but there is no Janice. Tereise motions for me to follow her and, without waiting to see if I do, she starts to run. Seeing no options other than following or standing alone in the alley, I run after her, my long legs quickly making up the distance between us.
As we reach the corner and turn down another alley, I hear running feet behind us and dart a glance over my shoulder. Janice struggles to catch us, her arms and legs pumping frantically. I whisper, "Wait," and Tereise stops, looking poised for further flight.
As Janice reaches us, the dancer throws herself into that small woman's arms. Janice hugs Tereise to her, then pushes her away. "Zepp's meeting us. Hurry!" Janice says before taking off again, Tereise and I now in her wake. A large dark car blocks the alley ahead, its front and rear passenger doors open like wings. Tereise jumps in the front, and, when I hesitate, Janice shoves me in the back and leaps in beside me. Before she can slam the door, the car jerks into motion and, without headlights, speeds through the narrow, blacked-out streets of Cairo.
When the car stops at last, Janice reaches across me and opens the door. When I don't move, she says quietly, "It's okay." I slide out, with Janice right behind me. We are parked by the Nile, near the delta, I guess. The moon reflects off the still, black water. Tereise walks around the front of the car with a tall man dressed in evening clothes. I recognize him as the playboy, the man Janice referred to as Zeppie.
"Antone Zepp, my friend Mel Pappas," Janice says. The man is tall enough to look me directly in the eye.
"Good evening, Mel Pappas," he says, with a slight bow. In the nightclub, I had thought him to be Egyptian. Now, as I look into his glittering black eyes, just a hint of a smile around their corners, and listen to his English-accented voice, I wonder. "Ladies, my humble barge awaits," he says, the words sounding both gallant and ironic.
Tereise leads the way across a small gangplank. Following her
and Janice, I gaze in wonder at the "humble barge."
She's at least fourteen feet across, and I judge her length to
be close to 40 feet. A single mast, sailless, but rigged, juts
up about half the distance of her length. The deck we are standing
on is teak, dark and lustrous, and all the trim is the whitest
"What is she called?" I ask Zepp as he steps aboard.
"Hatshepsut," he replies.
"Wonderful design. She draws only, what, five feet of water?"
"Four, Miss Pappas." He smiles, showing even white teeth.
I look up the length of the mast. "Do you sail her up the Nile?"
"Since the war, the British won't allow pleasure traffic on the river." He glances at Janice and Tereise, who have walked to the bow, where they stand arm-in-arm, apparently engrossed in conversation. A soft murmur punctuated with laughter drifts back to us.
"Have you known Janice long?" Zepp asks.
"Several weeks," I say, omitting the fact that we've been together only a few days during that time.
"So this is the only Janice you've seen," he observes.
"What do you mean?"
But Zepp has moved away from me and toward the other two women. "Come, my ladies, join me below for a late dinner. We'll see what the djinni has left us."
Zepp leads the way to an open hatch and the short stairway that
ends in the salon. Aunt Helen and I took the Grand Tour the summer
after I graduated from Ashley Hall, and this room seems a smaller
version of the elegant salons on the ocean liners. There are
mirrors and curtains and a rich brocade on the walls. A shining
mahogany table and chairs to seat 6 dominate the room, but there
is still space for a bar and bookcases. My mother's family is
what we in the South call comfortable, but this room indicates
There is a full place setting at each place at the table, and Zepp seats each of us with a flourish, Janice and Tereise on one side, and I on the other across from Tereise. "I'll return with whatever Anha left us," Zepp says. "She always leaves me a late meal."
Zepp returns quickly and carries plates of cold fowl, soft white bread, glazed vegetables, and fruit. Crossing to the bar, he returns with a bottle of pinot blanc, which he serves each of us. Stepping to the head of the table, he offers a toast. "To renewing old friendships and making new ones." We drink to his toast, Janice draining her glass as we sip. The food is delicious, and we all toast the talented Anha with the next glass.
"What brings you to Egypt, Janice?" Zepp asks when we have all agreed we can eat no more. "You won't find much fun or digging here right now."
"No fun?" asks Janice. "Then what are you doing here, Antone?"
"Ah, Tereise won't leave, and I cannot bear to go away alone," Zepp says dramatically. "Besides, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, none of those places can be enjoyed these days. And your homeland, ladies? Too serious, too earnest even in the best of times, which these are not."
"War can be so damned inconvenient, Antone?" Janice asks.
"Yes, inconvenient. I knew you would understand, old friend. There was a time you knew more about the enjoyment of life than digging in musty tombs."
I look at Janice, but she changes the subject. "Antone,
I saw you talking with Breen at the club. What could you have
to discuss with that Nazi?"
"Breen? A Nazi? Oh, no, Janice, you are wrong. He's a businessman, Swiss, I think, or perhaps Austrian. We exchange pleasantries when we meet."
Tereise rolls her eyes. I remember that Janice has called Tereise a Zionist spy. I wonder what Zepp knows about that. And what he might have told Breen.
"Antone, we all know you're a fine judge of character," Janice says.
"There was that incident with the 'actress' in Munich before the war."
"All that talk about Madeline was pure speculation," Zepp begins.
Janice laughs. "Speculation, perhaps, but not very pure!"
"Don't forget sweet Katie in Paris," Tereise adds.
"Yes," agrees Janice, "HE was quite sweet."
"Not fair!" protests Zepp. "I wasn't the only one who was fooled."
"That's right." Janice nods, a wicked gleam in her eyes. "By the way, did Katie ever return your diamond ring?"
The three continue on, Janice joining forces against Zepp, with the man seeming not to mind at all. I feel I am watching a sport the three friends have practiced for years. Zepp is the picture of careless elegance and style. Tereise, brown eyes shining, laughing and tossing her mane of white-gold hair is beautiful. I glance at Janice and realize she is as lovely as her Tereise, and that she looks far younger than I feel.
Gradually, as Zepp brings another vintage to the table, the talk turns to other friends. "Have either of you seen Manny since we were together in Turkey that last time? You all sailed up on Zeppie's old boat, what was it called, and came to Dad's dig near Ashira. . . ." Janice sees the look exchanged by Zepp and Tereise. "What? Oh, no, not Manny!"
"He went back to Berlin to get some people out," Tereise begins. "When was it? December of '40?"
"Beginning of '41, I think," Zepp gently corrects.
"I didn't know," says Janice. "And Saddler. You know about him."
"Yes," says Tereise. "Burma. Colter, too. Damned
British always think they have to volunteer!"
No more is said, but they lift their glasses in a silent toast
to absent friends.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 6
I have expected that Zepp will drive Janice and me back to her hotel for the night, but instead he shows us to a small cabin with a double birth. It is near the bow and shares a washroom with an empty adjoining cabin. I decide that this yacht must sleep at least 6, not counting crew. Zepp and Tereise disappear through a door on the other side of the companionway, and Janice doesn't comment.
From a chest of drawers, Janice pulls out two large men's shirts and hands me one.
Ready for bed, I start to climb into the top berth. "Mind if I sleep there?" Janice asks. "I never liked lower bunks."
"Sure," I say and give her a boost. When we are settled,
I comment, "I noticed the subject of the stele didn't come
up. I thought you might ask Zepp for help as you did your friend
"Tekmet knows how to keep his mouth shut" is her reply.
The next morning, Janice is up at dawn and ready to go, no signs of her alcohol consumption the night before. We raid the galley and see nothing of Zepp, Tereise, or Zepp's cook Anha. Our breakfast ends, as many meals with Janice do, with this her question, "Are you going to eat that?"
We climb to the deck to find a gorgeous Egyptian morning: dry, sunny, and not yet too hot. We look out over the Nile, and I think of all the history that has been played out here on this ancient river and its banks.
"Are we going to walk all the way to your hotel?" I ask.
Janice reaches into her jacket pocket and shows me a set of keys. "We're borrowing Antone's car."
"Does Antone know this?"
"I think he'll figure it out."
Janice drives the car through Cairo's streets in much the same headlong fashion as she drives a truck across the desert. This early and with wartime restrictions on fuel, there is little traffic, and we reach the center of the new city safely. Janice parks in front of the Grand Cheops Hotel. "This car will stand out too much in the Arab quarter," she explains. She slips the keys over the right rear tire.
I look at her questioningly.
"Tereise lives here," Janice explains. "They'll know where to find the car and the keys."
We walk quickly toward Janice's hotel. She turns into the bakery
below. "You can't be hungry," I say, but she's already
talking to the proprietor, her landlord, I remember. I can read
Arabic, but their conversation is too rapid and colloquial for
me to follow. He starts to give her a small package wrapped in
newspaper. She shakes her head. They seem to argue; then he
puts the package in the bottom of a string bag and places a loaf
of hearth bread on top. I notice that no money changes hands
Janice turns to me and switches to English. "We've got to hurry. He says some European men were here. He thinks they were British Security, and they threatened to bring in Egyptian police. His description matches the goons who knocked down your door."
"They're still after you?"
She shakes her head. "They said you might be with me, but it was clearly you they were after. My landlord wants me out. He can't have the British or the Egyptian police coming around. His son is involved in things the British and the current government would find too interesting."
"No, his son is an Egyptian Army officer, but he's a follower
of Nasser and Sadat."
I shake my head, having no idea about Egyptian politics. "Janice, I'm sorry I've brought so much trouble on everyone, on you. If I could, I would put that fragment back."
We're climbing the stairs to Janice's room. "No, you wouldn't," she contradicts, and I know she is right. "Be quiet!" Janice whispers, although I'm not talking. She motions me to stay behind and moves silently up the stairs. The door to her room is open, and we left it shut. I listen. My hearing has always been acute. I hear nothing. I listen again.
"No one's there," I whisper.
Janice looks back, a question in her eyes.
"I'm sure," I say.
Janice enters a room unchanged since our departure. She lays the string bag on the chair and crosses rapidly to the bed. She raises the blanket to reveal the sewn edge of the mattress. She looks up with a grin. "Someone is very clever, but they put the wrong number of knots in the thread." With that observation, she takes out her knife and slices the seam open again. She takes out her pack and hands it to me. "Let's go."
"Aren't you going to check the knapsack?"
"Everything's there," she answers as she grabs the string bag and heads for the door. "If it weren't, they wouldn't have put it back." When we reach the alley, Janice takes off running in the opposite direction from which we came. At the next cross alley, she turns left. She continues running a zigzag course through alleys and narrow streets until we reach an Arab market, where merchants are setting up their stalls. She slows to a fast walk, cuts between a couple of stalls and enters an herbal medicine store, only to exit through the back.
By now, I'm puffing a little, winded by the unaccustomed exercise. Janice glances at me and, smiling, begins to whistle a popular tune.
"Tuxedo Junction," I comment.
She stops whistling and nods. "Do you like Glenn Miller?"
"My favorite band," I say.
"Me, too." As we walk along, she whistles the rest of the song. I push away my grandmother's saying, "Whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad ends."
"Where can we go now?" I ask. "Your hotel isn't safe."
"And I suppose we can't return to my room."
"I wouldn't advise it."
"I don't think so."
"Let's see what Tek has to say." With that, she sits
on the step of a building that juts out into the street a little
farther than its neighbors. She reaches into the string bag she
still carries. Seeing me standing, she pats the step beside her.
"Sit." I hesitate, then brush the step with my hand
before I sit. I set Janice's knapsack on the step above.
Janice offers me a piece of the bread and, when I shake my head, stuffs it into her own mouth. She pulls out the object her landlord hid under the bread and takes off the newspaper in which it is wrapped. Her eyes widen as the flat piece of stone is revealed.
"There's a note, too," she says and unfolds a yellow square of paper. Janice reads it silently and sticks it in a jacket pocket. I stare until she meets my gaze. "Tekmet says to meet him later."
>From her trousers pocket, Janice pulls out my stolen stele fragment. To it she joins the fragment Tekmet has sent. The fit is perfect and complete what I believe to be the central portion of the stele.
Janice hands both fragments to me. "Can you read it?"
"I need some time," I say. "A reference or two would help."
"In my office at the museum."
"Let's go." I remain seated. "We'll find a pedicab or taxi," she promises.
The British-Egyptian Museum is an impressive stone edifice that takes up most of a block in the modern, westernized section of Cairo. Covered with reliefs and inscriptions and modeled after a New Kingdom temple, it dwarfs the more prestigious Chicago House, its nearest neighbor.
Accustomed by now to surreptitious entrances, I need no prompting
from Janice to use my key on the back door. The staff section
is always quiet and, since the war virtually stopped the flow
of tourists and scholarly visitors, the whole building is. . .
"Quiet as a tomb." Janice seems to finish my thoughts. Then she adds, "Not that some tombs are all that quiet. Ares, are you here?"
"Hush," I whisper. Too late.
"Who's there?" A gray head pokes out of an opening door. Upon seeing me, a dapper figure follows, in a dark blue suit and shiny black shoes, short-cropped gray hair contrasting sharply with black eyebrows and pencil mustache. "Miss Pappas, is that you? Back from sabbatical, are we?"
"Yes, sir," I say. "There's some work I need to do."
"Very good, very good," he says, as if I haven't been
absent without leave for two weeks. "Very conscientious
of you to come in so early. And who's your friend? Another American
"Dr. Janice Covington, Dr. Penhap Krykos," I say and start to move toward my office.
"Please join me in my office, ladies," Dr. Krykos invites us with a formal bow.
Janice meets my gaze and shrugs, and we follow Dr. Krykos into his book-lined office. Book-lined is an understatement. A better description would be book-engulfed. We make our way through piles of books and manuscripts to a small round table, also piled high with books. We all sit in the comfortable, well-used leather chairs, and Janice restacks one pile of books into two so she can see over the middle of the table.
Dr. Krykos offers us the strong, sweet Turkish coffee that he
loves, and we decline. I accepted once and didn't sleep for three
"Covington?" Dr. Krykos says. "Covington. I knew your father, I believe."
Janice tenses, expecting a rehashing of her father's "crimes" or, more likely, an embarrassed silence.
"Fine man." Prepared to mask other emotions, Janice lets surprise show through. "Oh, a bit obsessed, that scroll thing, you know. Whatever came of all that? Never mind. I was very sad to hear that he was killed, tragic accident that. As careful as your father was of the lives of his workers, the cave-in was surprising."
"No matter how careful we are, Dr. Krykos, unexpected things can happen," Janice observes.
"Yes, my thoughts exactly." He leans toward Janice and looks at her intently. "Sometimes we take actions that seem, at the time, to be for the best. We later learn that there are unintended consequences. My sympathies, Dr. Covington."
"Are you here to tour our collection? Some specific artifact you wish to view? Or, from your choice of companion, may I assume it's a translation you seek? Ancient Greek, hieratic, Linear B, or hieroglyphics, none better than our Miss Pappas."
I interrupt his uncharacteristic flow of words. "Dr. Krykos, pardon me, but Dr. Covington's time is limited."
"No hurry, Miss Pappas," Janice corrects me. "Tell me, Dr. Krykos, I wonder if you and I share an acquaintance, an archaeologist."
"I know many."
"Name of Gruner."
He sighs. "This man is a friend of yours."
"I thought not." Krykos wrinkles his elegant features
in disgust. "I called your father a fine man, and he was.
Oh, there were some small irregularities to be sure, but nothing
that would compromise his science or harm his workers. But Gruner.
Pah! He would blast out the side of a mountain, turn everything
else to tiny fragments to get to a golden mask that might bring
him fame or fortune. And if a worker was too close to the explosion?
Janice looks at me, and I nod. "Do you remember Miss Pappas asking you about this fragment?" I pull out the first piece.
Krykos doesn't ask why the piece is in my possession. "Yes. It's from the Gruner stele, or what some call the warrior stele."
"So you are familiar with it?"
He nods and appears embarrassed. "I felt it best not to encourage your interest, Miss Pappas. It was an accident that it was in that box with the ostraca. You see, it came to the museum through. . . .irregular channels."
"Dr. Krykos, the catalog indicates that the complete stele,
although in four pieces, is here, as well as a photograph of the
original site," I remind him.
"Miss Pappas, Dr. Covington, the rest of the stele was never here," Dr.
Krykos says. "I don't believe a photograph of it exists."
"But it was entered in the catalog," I say, trying to understand.
"Yes, it was," he agrees. "I entered it."
Janice asks, "Did Gruner keep the other fragments and have you alter the records to show that they were here?"
Krykos answers carefully. "That may have been the case."
"Why would you do that?" Janice's tone is curious, not accusing.
Krykos drops his eyes. "Gruner is a persuasive man. I can say no more."
I ask, "Are you protecting Gruner? Or yourself?"
"At this point, I am protecting you." He rises, and
clearly the interview is at an end.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 7
My office is about half the size of my superior's, but all the books are on the floor to ceiling shelves along one wall. All papers and monographs are filed in the one cabinet I'm allotted. My battered desk top is clear.
I take one straight-backed wooden chair, and Janice balances on the edge of the other. She hands me both pieces of the stele, and, laying them on my desk, I fit them together. From my upper right hand drawer, I take paper and from the central drawer a fountain pen.
"Would you hurry up?"
I smile, and, adjusting my glasses farther down my nose, I begin to write.
After a few minutes, I ask Janice to pull a reference. "Watkins," I say.
"My books are alphabetized by author's last name."
"Of course, they are," she says and quickly locates and hands me the correct book. She leans over me but, at my glare, again perches on her chair.
After consulting one more reference, I am satisfied with my translation.
"This is rough, you understand," I caution.
"Yeah, yeah, just short of perfect. Go on, will you? Read it, or give it to me."
I surprise her by handing her the paper. She reads it quickly.
"Read it aloud," I say. She nods and begins reading:
That night a babe is born. Its mother hands it to the warrior woman. "Here, take my son to his father. Here is my seal. Take it as well." The warrior woman holds the newborn. The seal, a ring, she puts on her own finger, never guessing its royal message or of the bloodlines of the child. The mother parts from child and earth.
The storm has scattered camels and horses, none remaining. The warrior and her friend walk on. They save the water for the baby, using little to quench their thirst. Finally, the smaller stumbles, says, "No more, I can't go on." The warrior will go on and save the child, carried snug within her desert robe, leaving her friend a few sips of water and a promise to return.
The babe brought to Pharaoh's city, to the very temple grounds,
the ring is shown, the story told. Prince Osorkon gives his own
horse to the woman, fastest steed in Pharaoh's stable to return
and <missing> Like the Khamsin, rides the woman,
Janice's voice trails off, and we sit in silence for some time. At last, she speaks, "How long did Gabrielle live? I pictured her as a grandmother telling tales to her children's children."
"We don't know this is about Xena and Gabrielle," I caution. "We don't know they were ever in Egypt."
"She had to survive, or she wouldn't have left any descendants. But maybe she already had a child. Do you remember anything from the scrolls that would give us a hint?"
I speak slowly. "There isn't anything here to prove this is about Xena and Gabrielle."
Janice continues to ignore me. "The scrolls all seemed to be about their travels through Greece. That doesn't mean they didn't go anywhere else. And we didn't get to read all of the scrolls. Damn that idiot and all HIS descendants."
I give up. "What now?"
"The stele was found at Dahkla Oasis. Could we look at a map of that area?"
I rise. "I haven't looked. We should have one." We go to the map room. Large cabinets of drawers line the walls of that room. A thick looseleaf book rests on a high viewing table that takes up the middle of the room. I open this index and quickly find Dahkla. In the drawer listed, I find the portfolio of maps for the area and lay the appropriate map on the viewing table. Janice studies the map for a few minutes.
"Do you have a wider view?"
I pull another map from the same portfolio and lay it over the first.
Janice studies it and then places her finger on a site labeled Cashi Zun. "Do you have a map of this site as well?" I place a third map over the other two. Janice flips back and forth among the three maps. "There are only about 5 kilometers between Dahkla Oasis and Cashi Zun," she comments. "I had forgotten they're that close."
"What's the significance of Cashi Zun?" I ask.
"It's where my father died."
I feel a chill at this second mention today of her father's death. "Janice, if you'll pardon my asking, would you tell me more about how your father died?"
She turns back to studying the detailed map of Cashi Zun, and
I'm sure she won't answer. Then she meets my eyes. Expecting
to see tears, I am shocked by the anger that blazes there. "My
father and two of his workmen were buried alive in a necropolis
they were excavating. No one could reach them for a week. It
took them three days to die."
"How horrible for you!" I say, imagining a younger Janet agonizing on the surface as rescue attempts failed to reach her father in time.
"I wasn't there, and, by the time I learned about it, it was long after the fact."
"I thought you always worked with your father, as I did with mine."
"I did until about a month before he was killed." Janice's tone is flat. "I left because we had an argument. The argument was about his obsession with the Xena Scrolls. Ironic, right? I told him the site at Cashi Zun was so promising it could restore his reputation and make mine, but only if it was handled right."
"All science, no business. No using it to finance yet another trip to Greece chasing those non-existent scrolls. I thought he had agreed, and I left when I discovered he was up to the same old tricks. I left when some artifacts disappeared, and I caught my father with a grave robber and thief."
"Who was that?"
"Who else?" Her laugh sounds bitter. "His old friend Tekmet. When I saw them together, I didn't even let Dad explain. I told him what I thought of him, took the Jeep, and drove to Cairo. I took the next airplane out, didn't even ask where it was going. I ended up in London, but it could have been Kathmandu, for all I cared."
"And he died without your talking to him again?" I ask.
She looks down, and I can't read her expression.
"Janice, I'm sure it was as clear to your father as it is to me how much you loved him."
She looks into my eyes, the pain evident. "I guess I'll never know, will I?" Then she hands me the maps. "It's time to go meet Tek."
We walk to the meeting place, Janice unwilling to engage a cab for this trip. She doesn't share with me our destination, but finally I say, "We're near the nightclub, the one where your friend works."
"How do you know that?" Janice asks. "You've only been there once, and it was dark."
"I don't know," I admit. "A good sense of direction, I guess. It's hard to lose me."
"I'll keep that in mind," Janice retorts, "the
next time I want to lose you."
We turn up one more alley, and we're behind the nightclub. Janice looks around. "Where is he? We're a little late, and Tek never is."
I notice what looks like a bundle of rags where the two alleys intersect.
"Stay here," Janice says, and she walks toward the corner, with me close behind. The pile of rags resolves into a body.
"Tek?" I whisper.
Janice nods. She turns the body over, then pushes me back around the corner. I'm enough taller that I've seen over her head and know what has set her to retching. I turn politely away until Janice is able to speak again.
"Why would someone do that?" I ask.
"You saw? Yeah, you're kind of pale. Not going to faint, are you?" She studies me with concern.
I shake my head, then wish I hadn't. "Southern women haven't fainted since what you call the Civil War." I take a deep breath, let it out slowly so I won't belie my words. I ask again, "Why would someone do that?"
"Cut off his hand? Probably to mark him as a thief. At least they waited until after he was dead."
"How do you know that?" I ask, figuring she's lying to make me feel better.
"There's lots of blood on his chest, where he was shot, but almost none on his sleeves or pants." At my raised eyebrow, she continues, "Dead men don't bleed."
"You saw all that in those few seconds?"
She nods. "Time can slow down."
I'm not sure I understand, but I don't ask. Janice moves toward the corner, and I put out my hand. She shakes it off her shoulder, but explains, "Tekmet's note said to meet him. He had to have something to show me."
"Maybe he just wanted to tell you something," I reason.
"He would have put that in the note," she says. "No,
Tek wasn't that happy to see me last night. He was already scared.
He wouldn't have met with me today if he didn't have to."
"He sent the fragment and the note. Why not send whatever else he had?"
"Damn it, Mel, I don't know! Maybe it was too precious to trust with anyone else. I've got to look!"
She returns to the corner and kneels beside the body. That's what it is now, I tell myself, a body, not the man called Tek. I whisper a prayer and hope his Moslem soul doesn't mind.
"Whoever did this would have searched him," she observes. "No use checking pockets. He can't have been here long. He still has his shoes. Those would have been gone if. . . ." She stops speaking, and I wonder if she is going to be sick again. I gasp when she removes his right shoe.
"Janice, how can you?"
She studies the sole of the shoe, discards that one, and removes the other from his left foot. I notice that this sole is thicker. Janice says, "Tekmet had an illness when he was a child that left one of his legs shorter than the other. I just remembered how he turned that to his advantage." She presses her knife against the thick sole until it splits. There is a hollow space inside. Janice removes from it a square of paper, folded several times.
"It IS just information," I start to say when Janice jumps up and grabs my hand. "Let's go." We've taken two or three running steps past the body when shots echo against the walls of the surrounding buildings. Janice shifts directions and tugs me after her.
"The back door," she puffs, and I know she's talking about the nightclub. At the corner, she draws her pistol and fires twice toward the roof of one of the buildings. We run on. I'm thinking, what if the door is locked, and knowing the answer is that we're dead.
I try the door, and it opens. Janice pushes me through and follows
me. There are several stout locks on the door, and she shoves
them home. There is pounding on the door, but it was apparently
built to withstand assaults, and it holds. The pounding ceases.
Janice counts slowly to ten and begins to release the locks.
I try to stop her, and she slaps my hands away. The door open,
she steps quickly through, her pistol cocked. "They've gone
to the front," she says. "Come on." Again, we
are running through these alleys. We pass poor Tekmet with barely
a glance and run for the center of the city.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 8
Antone Zepp's car is where we left it, but the keys are gone. "Damn and double damn," Janice swears. "That really slows things down." She opens the driver's side door and leans under the dashboard. "Get in," she orders, and I've barely had time to run around the car and get in when I hear a soft purr. With a great grinding of gears, the car pulls away from the curb.
"Where to now?" I ask."
"I don't know." Janice howls around a couple of corners, then slows to a more sedate pace. She finally pulls over on a quiet street of colonial mansions.
"Janice, where are we?"
"Consular row," she says. "Around the European hotels and here are about the only places this car won't attract attention."
"Why is that?"
"Zeppie?" I ask, unconsciously using his nickname.
She shrugs. "Little wonder the world's in the shape it is."
Carefully, she unfolds the square of paper she removed from Tekmet's shoe. As she reads, tears begin to course down her face. Without comment, I hand her my linen hankie, and she takes it.
When she speaks, her voice is completely under control. "Aren't you going to ask what's on the paper?"
"You'll tell me if you want me to know."
"Always the polite Southern lady, aren't you?" she
asks. There is an edge to her words.
"I was raised to be mannerly, to use the correct fork, to sip my tea, to say the appropriate words." I look at a consulate that reminds me of my Aunt Helen's home. "I was raised for a world that doesn't exist any more, and I'm trying to find my way in the world that does."
When I return my gaze to my companion's face, she blinks first.
"This is a page from my father's personal journal. It's
dated two days before the cave-in."
"You said 'personal journal?"
"Yes, he kept an official log of the dig, of course, but he always wrote a personal journal, too. He told me he started keeping a journal when he was a child. I've done the same."
"You keep a journal?" I don't know why I'm surprised.
"Yeah. You've been carrying it all day." She indicates the knapsack on my lap. "Writing down what happens and our thoughts about it, I guess it's kind of a tradition in our family. Didn't you ever have a diary when you were a girl?"
I shake my head. What would I have written in it?
"Anyway, when my father's things were sent to me, the latest
journal, the one for the last few months, was missing."
"So someone has it, and Tekmet got his hands on one page." I try to think why anyone would withhold something so personal from a man's only child.
"I want to read the page to you, and see what you think."
Weather: Day 41 of hot and dry. I don't know why I continue to include the weather in a country that rarely has any, but habits die hard.
We've reached the third level of the necropolis and entered a room I'm calling the library. It is filled with papyri, most illuminated in the brightest colors. Among them is a beautiful Book of the Dead. Jannie would love it. (I hope she's still in London or has gone back to the States though. Europe and Africa are too dangerous right now for my reckless, pagan girl.)
The walls of the library are covered with friezes and murals.
The room seems to have been meant as an eternal reading room.
But for whom? A pharaoh? A high priest? Again, I wish I could
talk to Jannie about it. She has such good instincts for these
things. There's one item that really has me puzzled. I took
some flash photographs and will send the film to the States.
If anyone can figure out what it means, the old Gamecock can.
T was here today to talk about the figurine. G is coming tomorrow. I'll try to be neighborly, but it will be a strain. Big bore.
Goodnight, Buster. I love you.
"Is that where your father died? On the third level?" I ask when I find my voice.
She shakes her head. "No, he and the men were found just inside the tomb entrance, on the first level. There was evidently an air space there. The rest of the necropolis was completely destroyed, couldn't be dug out at all."
"What is that about T and G?"
"Dad usually didn't write out names in his journal unless it was someone new. I imagine T was Tekmet, especially since it refers to a figurine." She looks away.
"You think your father was going to sell it?" I ask
and realize that I'm becoming less polite.
She ignores my question. "For G, Gruner comes to mind because his dig was nearby and because I've been carrying part of his stele around in my pocket. There are probably two or three other people who make sense for G, except for one thing. Dad always considered him a bore. And, of course, I'm Buster."
"Somehow, I figured that out."
"That leaves the old Gamecock. I don't have the slightest idea who that might be."
"I do," I say. At her look of surprise, I add, "The old Gamecock refers to my daddy."
"Your daddy, I mean, you father?'
"Daddy went to the University of South Carolina and returned there to teach after he got his doctorate. My father was a very serious man, not someone given to hobbies. Except one. He was the biggest booster the university's basketball team ever had."
"So the mascot of U.S.C. is the gamecock. It's a bird. That became Daddy's nickname among the students and faculty, the old Gamecock." I remembered also that no one called him that to his face.
Janice reads that part of the journal entry again. "So my father planned to send yours photographs, no, film, I guess, from the necropolis. Why?"
"I think he means the photographs were taken in that room he called the library. Maybe pictures of the papyri?" I try to think what else it could be.
"It might have been the papyri, but usually we had things like that copied by hand and then sent the copies to translators."
"That takes time," I say. "Maybe your father was
in a hurry."
"Could a translation be done from photographs?" Janice asks.
I nod vigorously. "If they were sharp enough. We did it all the time, but not usually for scrolls or papyri. More likely, inscriptions from walls or monuments, things that couldn't be easily moved."
"You were helping your father then?"
"I mean, would you have known if your father got that film developed and if he did the translation?" She is clearly impatient, but I'm still considering what to say.
I finally decide on the truth, usually the least chosen, but best decision.
"Daddy had a stroke almost a year before the time you're
talking about. He never talked or worked again. I did all of
his translations from then until he died."
"But he was publishing up until the time of his death. I remember reading a monograph. . . ." Her voice trails away, and she returns to the subject at hand. "So I guess you were in a position to know if the film ever arrived."
Janice turns the journal page over and hands it to me. "I think my father drew this map on the back to show someone something specific, maybe where he made an important find." She takes the paper back. "What I can't figure out is whether this has anything to do with my talk with Tekmet or if he's had this paper in his shoe all along."
"Do you think he was killed for stealing the second piece of the stele?
I'll feel responsible if that's the case."
"His death had something to do with a theft. Whoever killed him chose an obvious, if gruesome, way to make that point. Whether it was because of the fragment or not, I don't know." She studies the journal page as if it might reveal more secrets.
"What do you want to do?" I ask.
She looks up. "What do you mean?"
"Do you want to track down the other pieces of the stele or find out what your father was trying to tell you?"
She doesn't have to think about it, but her manner is guilty, as if she's letting me down. "I want to go to Cashi Zun."
"Then that's exactly what we'll do."
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 9
Janice drives slowly though a neighborhood of European-style homes, set far back from the street. She repeatedly checks the rear view mirror and seems satisfied with what she sees-or doesn't see. She finally turns toward the river. "I don't think we were trailed to Zeppie's houseboat last night, but you never know until it's too late."
Too late? "Why are we going to the houseboat?" I ask.
"Cashi Zun is on the other side of the Nile and upstream about 35 kilometers. Last night I saw a motor launch tied to the other side of the houseboat." She grins.
"Why not?" I say. "I steal antiquities; you steal cars. We'll add boat theft to our crimes. I wonder what Egyptian prisons are like."
"Don't worry. If we're caught, the British will charge us with espionage.
Their prisons are much nicer."
"But don't they shoot spies during wartime?"
"Slight disadvantage." She's whistling happily as we approach the docks.
"Pennsylvania 6-5000," I say. More Glenn Miller.
Tereise is sunning herself when we climb aboard the Hatshepsut.
Her oiled and bronzed skin contrasts sharply with her fair hair.
Her white suit is brief, but it still conceals more than her
dancing costume. She looks up from her towel and doesn't seem
surprised to see us.
"Oil my back, will you, love?" she says to Janice and holds out a small bottle. Janice kneels beside her and obliges.
"How can you stand this sun?" Janice asks. "If I wasn't completely covered, I would fry to a crisp."
"It's your fair skin, sweet." She raises herself enough to look over her shoulder at me. "Hello again. You look like you would tan nicely. Has our girl been running you ragged?"
"We've had a busy morning," I say.
Janice finishes oiling Tereise's back and wipes her hands on the towel before starting to rise. Tereise grabs her hand and pulls her back down. Janice smiles and settles in a cross-legged posture. She removes her jacket and bush hat and turns her face to the sun. "Put your hat back on," Tereise orders, "before your face is as red as your hair."
Janice obeys, but says, "My hair is blonde."
Tereise says, "Right." She looks at me and points to a deck chair.
"Thank you," I say and sit down. I remember my aunt's many admonitions to wear a hat in the sun. I was sixteen before I realized that she worried my "Mediterranean" heritage would be made more apparent by an ability to tan.
"Is Antone around?" Janice asks casually.
"No," answers Tereise. "What do you want?"
Janice is all innocence. "Want?"
Tereise looks at her through lowered eyelids.
"Mel and I need to make a trip upriver, and I couldn't help noticing that motor launch last night. . . ."
"No petrol," Tereise says. "Even with a diplomatic
allotment, Antone barely gets enough to run the car."
"Car's gas tank is almost empty, too," Janice says gloomily, "so we can't even siphon from that. Damn."
"Why don't we sail the Hatshepsut upriver?" I ask. Both women look at me as if I've suggested we float upstream in the car. "It seems to me the British might be less suspicious of a houseboat."
"Sail the Hat?" Tereise asks. "Without a crew?"
"Sure. Why not? Zepp said the sail is onboard, probably in that sail locker." I rise and open the locker hatch. "It's here. And the rigging is up. It looks a little weathered, but intact."
Janice is standing beside me now and is looking at the mast. "You know what you're talking about? You can sail this boat?"
"Sure, with your help. The river's not mined or anything,
is it?" We both look at Tereise, who smiles and shakes her
head. "I used to sail along the Outer Banks every summer.
A friend had a boat bigger than this, and we sometimes sailed
Janice claps me on the shoulder. "You're a woman of many skills, Mel Pappas!"
Tereise leaps up. "Count me in. I always wanted to see if this barge could do more than float!"
With my inexperienced crew, and my unfamiliarity with the rigging, it takes almost an hour to raise the sail. The breeze is poor, but by tacking, I'm able to get us onto the river and making steady headway against the sluggish Nile current. I stay close to the shore. "We draw very little water," I explain, "and maybe anyone watching will think we're just changing moorings."
"I haven't seen any British or Egyptian patrol boats," Janice comments.
"All the action's to the north and east," Tereise states. "Rommel's massing his tanks, and the British think he's going to make a drive for the Suez in a couple of weeks."
We stare at her. Janice finally says dryly, "Anyone hearing you might think you're a spy." She turns to me. "If the captain doesn't need me right now, I'll see what there is to eat in the galley." She's down the steps before I can nod.
"Is she always hungry?" I ask.
Tereise laughs. "Jannie uses up a lot of energy. But, yeah, she's always hungry. . . for something. She's been that way ever since I've known her, and that would be since we were twelve."
I move the wheel to bring us around a log. I'm thinking, log or crocodile?
"How did you and Janice meet?"
"My father and hers were colleagues. At the time, my father
was working on a way to date parchment. Dr. Covington invited
him to help with a project. Jews could still travel outside Germany
at that time, so the whole family, Mama, Papa, and I, moved to
Turkey for the summer. Dr. Covington and Papa got along so well,
they worked together for several years after that."
"You say you're German? You sound like an American."
"We lived outside Germany much of the time when I was growing up. And Janice and I taught each other our native tongues. You should hear her German! It's better than my English." Her expression turns serious as she goes on. "We were living in Germany, however, when things started to go bad for the Jews. Papa kept saying things would get better, and then suddenly it was almost too late. Dr. Covington helped us get out and sponsored my father and mother to get into the States. I loved Dr. Covington like a second father, and now we're heading for the place where he died."
"Janice said she was in London at that time. I wondered why it took so long for her to get the news about the cave-in."
Tereise hesitates. "I guess you should know what kind of person Janice is, and it's certain she won't tell you."
"Janice didn't hear about her father's accident or return to Egypt because she was in the hospital herself."
"Was she ill?" I ask. "Were you with her?"
"I was with her, but she wasn't ill. You see, I was working for the JRO. Do you know what that is?" I shake my head. "I was trying to get Jews out of northern Europe before it was too late. But events moved faster than expected, and I was trapped. Janice found out when she arrived in London, and she came to get me. She located me in hiding and, together, we got out."
"The hospital?" I prompted.
"Janice was badly wounded during a border crossing. There was no medical help. We eventually made it to the coast, and the Underground smuggled us to England. I thought Janice would die during the crossing and that, if she did, I would jump overboard to be with her. She lived, of course, but she was in a London hospital for weeks."
"And it was during this time that her father died?" I ask, trying to picture Janice as less than the healthy young woman she is now.
Tereise nods as Janice bounds up the steps. "Chow's on," she announces.
"I'll take the wheel while you two eat."
"Aren't you hungry?" I start to ask. Then from Janice's
grin, I know she's already eaten.
We continue up the river without incident. As the sun settles lower in the west, I say to Janice and Tereise, "We need to either cross the river now or wait until morning. I don't want to dodge snags in the dark."
Janice points out an irrigation wheel on our side of the river.
"If I'm right about which village that belongs to, we need
to cover at least 10 more kilometers before we leave the river.
You're sure we can't cross during the night?"
"I'm sure I don't want to," I answer.
Janice looks across the broad Nile and then back to me. "You're the sailor. What do you want to do?"
"We have a fairly good breeze right now. I would just as well cross now and find a place to moor on the other side for the night."
Janice nods and turns to Tereise. "Hey, babe, we're going to cross the river tonight. What do you want to do? Cross with us or stay on this side?"
"If you run the Hat aground on the other side, it will show anyone where you've gone," she says.
"Yeah," Janice agrees, "I've thought of that."
Tereise asks me, "Do you think I could sail the Hat back down the river?"
"Or at least bring her back across before mooring or running her aground?"
"I don't see why not. She's easy to handle, there's not much wind, and the current's slow. But what will you do then?" I look around at the surrounding flood plain.
"Wherever there's an irrigation wheel, there's a village nearby," she says. "I'll get a message to Cairo somehow. And, even if I don't, I have a feeling Antone will come looking for me when he sees his boat is gone." She and Janice laugh, although I don't see the joke.
I adjust the sail to catch more wind and turn the Hatshepsut toward
the blood-red setting sun.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 10
The next day, when Janice and I wade the last few yards to shore, I am wearing a pair of khaki pants and cotton shirt from Antone's closet and carrying his lace-up leather boots. The clothing is a surprisingly good fit, and the boots are all right with two pairs of socks. On my head is a broad-brimmed hat, protection from the tropical sun. I also carry Janice's pack and two large canteens of water.
I sigh with relief when we reach the cracked mud of the shore. At every step I have expected the bite of a snake or crocodile. Janice is already waving to Tereise, who is too busy to wave back. She has agreed to cross the Nile here, then float down the river only a few kilometers before running the Hat aground. I've shown her how to drop the sail before she leaves the boat. I wave, too, glad to have met this brave woman and looking forward to seeing her again.
I sit on the hard ground and put on boots and shoes. My pants legs are wet, but will no doubt dry quickly. Janice has donned her boots and is up and pointing to the southwest. "Cashi Zun is only two or three kilometers that way." I look up doubtfully at the clear sky and blazing sun. "We're really going to walk three kilometers across the desert? In the middle of the day?"
Janice points out the two canteens I carry and lifts the large water skin she has brought to shore. "It's barely mid-morning. We'll be there before the sun's at its peak. Just drink plenty of water and keep up."
Keep up? I'm wondering if she's compared the length of our legs.
At first, I think how beautiful the desert is; then I think how hot it is; then I don't think at all, concentrating only on moving one foot in front of the other. I feel a touch and look down into Janice's green eyes. "Drink," she says and lifts one of the canteens to my mouth. I take a couple of sips and stop.
Janice says, "Drink! You've sweat out more than that in the last five minutes."
I take a deeper draught and explain, "I don't want to run out."
Janice sighs, and I can tell she's controlling her impatience. "In dry
heat like this, you need water in your body, not in a canteen. There's a
well at Cashi Zun. We can get more water there. Listen, Mel,
I'm not kidding. If you don't drink now, you won't need to worry
about whether there's water for later!"
I take the canteen and drink deeply. My stomach rebels, but I
keep the water down.
"Are you feeling sick?" Janice asks. I nod. "That is NOT good. You've got to keep going a little longer. There's a low cliff farther along. We can probably get you in some shade there. Here, take one more drink, and we'll move on." I take a sip, but I know I can't drink more.
When Janice moves on, I follow, concentrating on moving one foot, then the other. The motion becomes automatic after a while, and my mind can drift. . . .interrupted only by someone ordering me to drink. At last, a voice tells me to sit, and I do. A gentle hand presses a wet rag to the back of my neck, and I feel someone washing my face. A vague memory from early childhood tells me it is my mother.
After a while, the fog clears. I'm lying on the ground looking up at a blue sky. The sky looks awfully close. I realize that it's my own blue dress. Someone has hung it above my face, between a rock face and a scrubby desert bush. Janice is kneeling beside me, the top of her hat touching the fabric that shades us. She is using Zepp's hat to fan my face.
"Good job, ace," she says. "At least you stayed on your feet until we got to where I could rig some shade. I thought you said you were used to a hot climate."
I move my lips but nothing comes out. Janice tips one of the canteens and pours a few drops of water into my mouth. I choke, then swallow. "When you stopped sweating, I knew you were in trouble, but you kept moving until we reached this place."
"It's a stone outcropping of some sort, about half a kilometer long. We're near the southern end of it, I think. There are some low, folded hills just beyond, and Cashi Zun is there."
"Done with the desert?"
"Well, it's all desert, whole damn country's desert, but there are some places to get out of the sun. The canteens are empty, but the skin's still over half-full, so we should be all right."
"Yes, there's a well at Cashi Zun. When you're ready, we'll move on."
Janice mops my face with a damp cloth. "Rest a while and drink a little more water. You know, Mel, you had me worried. Desert travel just isn't for some people."
After about an hour, Janice agrees that I am all right to move. By now, the sun is far enough to the west that the rock face throws a thin shadow, and, as we walk, we stay in that shade as much as possible. The outcropping ends abruptly, just dropping into the desert floor. We turn west, and the terrain instantly becomes rougher, the "folded" hills Janice has mentioned.
There is now the occasional depression or large rock that offers its scant shade, and Janice calls a halt so often that I finally say, "Enough! I'm fine, and, at this rate, we'll get there next month."
Janice laughs and points to the next low hill. "Over there, on the north slope: Cashi Zun."
Distances are deceptive in the desert, but still we reach the abandoned dig in fifteen minutes, with no more "poor Mel" stops on the way. There are no buildings or tents left standing; just a few debris and pieces of broken equipment bear evidence that a camp once stood here.
The first thing Janice does is walk to what looks like a small
stone cistern. With my help, she pushes off the flat stone that
covers the top. Inside, there is a lever. Janice works the lever
up and down a few times. It creaks, but nothing happens. She
removes the plug from the metal tube to which the lever is attached
and pours in a small amount of water from the water skin. She
pumps the lever again, and a small quantity of rusty-looking water
pours from the tube into the bowl of the cistern. Taking one
of the empty canteens I still carry, she uses its cap to scoop
up this water and pour it back down the tube. More pumping of
the lever, and a stream of clear water finally rewards her efforts.
I feel relief. I've learned my first lesson of the desert:
Water is life.
Janice fills the first canteen and motions for the second. "Always fill your canteens at the first opportunity. It could save your life. We'll use the rest of the water from the skin, then fill that, too."
Janice wets a cloth and wipes her face and hands and gives me the cloth so I can do the same. The water is surprisingly cool.
Her eyes sweeping the site, Janice says, "I was hoping for a piece of canvas so we could rig a shelter, but the place has been picked clean."
All I see is barren space. "By whom?"
"The workers, probably, before they left," Janice answers. "Bedouins, too. You may think nothing's growing here, but, for part of the year, they bring their flocks to these hills to graze. The Dahkla Oasis is a few kilometers to the west, and there's a year-round lake there. By Egyptian standards, this area is a swamp!"
Janice takes from a pocket her father's journal page. She unfolds
it to study the map on the back. "Before I left, we were
digging over there. You can see a little of an ancient wall.
Blowing sand has almost covered it, but we had it exposed to
about three feet down. Doesn't sound like much, but this dried
mud is like concrete, and you can't use dynamite on a dig. Well,
not usually anyway." She chuckles, and I'm sure she's thinking
about a certain tomb in Greece.
"It rains that much here that there's mud?" I ask.
"No, it hardly rains at all. What I called dried mud is really ancient alluvium from Nile floods." As we talk, we drift toward the wall. Janice brushes away sand, and I can make out some faint marks. In hieratic writing, I read the New Kingdom equivalent of "Kilroy was here."
Janice continues. "If we dug out all this loose sand, we would come to compressed dried mud. We would have to break that up and dig down at least twenty feet to come to the base of the original wall."
"Twenty feet of mud? This far from the Nile?"
"There have been periodic floods that have reached even farther," Janice says, clearly in her element now. For the first time, I see the scientist that lives within the adventurer. "KV7, Ramses III's tomb, in the Valley of the Kings, is twenty-three feet high, and, when it was discovered, the burial chamber was filled with flood debris and mud from floor to ceiling. It's a lot farther from the Nile than Cashi Zun.'
She picks up a handful of sand, as if she would like to make a start at exposing the wall. Then she lets the grains fall through her fingers, and she again studies the map held in her other hand. "The wall is here on the map," she says, pointing. "And the well here." She makes another stab at the map. "So Dad's new dig must have been. . . . " She turns to face northwest. ". . . .over there."
With me following, she walks determinedly through the old camp
to what looks like a footpath around the nearest hill. We pass
what I had thought to be a boulder and now realize is a weathered
block of limestone. Beyond, contrasting darkly with the tans
and browns of the hillside, is the rectangular opening of a tomb.
Continue to Parts 11 - 20
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