The Further Adventures of Janice and Mel:
The Gabrielle Stele
by Judy (Wishes)
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The Gabrielle Stele, Part 11
Janice stands silently at the entrance. Her face has assumed the hard, unfeeling look I've seen before. From her shirt pocket, she takes her zippo lighter and a small cigar. Biting off the end, she lights the cigar and draws on it until if glows. Her eyes opaque and unreadable, she silently smokes and stares into blackness.
"Give me my pack," she finally says, and I hand it to her. She takes out a large flashlight, and I start to understand the weight of this sack I've carried for two days. "Stay here." Beam on, she steps into the tomb. Close behind, I see the beam fall on a pile of torches. I step forward to pick one up, and Janice jumps. Because she's behind the flashlight beam, I cannot see her face, but I'm sure it wears a glare.
"Take a couple of torches," she says, "and give me two. We can save the batteries." She uses the tip of her cigar to light a torch for each of us. The ends of the torches are wrapped in cloth and covered with something that looks like pitch, and they ignite readily and glow brightly. Unlike the narrow flashlight beam, they illuminate the tunnel from wall to wall and floor to ceiling for several feet. I can see that the tunnel is no more than five feet wide and six feet high. I can span its width with my arms, and I remove my hat to keep it from brushing the ceiling. The floor slopes downward and is covered at intervals with large rocks and piles of debris.
We walk for several minutes, squeezing by and climbing over obstacles,
when Janice speaks, her voice echoing hollowly against the walls.
"This isn't right. This tunnel was completely collapsed.
I have the official report. A shaft was dropped from above to
get to. . . .get to the bodies. After the bodies were recovered,
that shaft was plugged, too."
"Well, then someone cleared the tunnel," I say, thinking that I am stating the obvious.
"I don't think so. According to the report, the ceiling of the tomb and the tons of rock above it came down. All that didn't collapse was a small section near the entrance. The workers outside heard metal being pounded against the rocks, and that's how they knew there were survivors. They couldn't move a massive block that filled the entrance, so someone got the idea to dig from above. It worked, but the rescuers got there too late."
"Well," I say, "either the report exaggerated the damage or someone has been very busy."
We've come to a division in the tunnel. One branch continues on with the same slope. The other, the one to the left, slants down even more sharply. "Which way?" I ask.
"I want to see the chamber Dad called the library in his
journal. He said it was on the third level, so let's go down."
We take the tunnel on the left, which seems to lead deeper into
or beneath the hill.
As we go deeper, the floor becomes smoother, and I realize we are walking on limestone blocks. I hold my torch near the wall to my right. The limestone here bears signs of plaster. Although cracks and other damage are evident, I can make out illustrations that were probably once painted in bright colors. Janice comes over and holds her torch near mine. "See this figure?" With her index finger, she outlines a central figure, larger than the rest. "He's repeated every few feet along the wall. Chances are he's the occupant of this tomb."
"Is he a pharaoh?" I ask.
"No," she says, "The iconography is wrong. And it looks like the figure was originally painted red, not gilt or gold. My guess would be a high-ranking official in the pharaoh's court. There's something in his hand. Maybe an insignia of office?"
We walk along and study the next two tableau. They are in slightly
better condition. "He's holding a pen and a papyrus scroll,"
Janice examines the mural for several minutes. "It could
be. So he's what, an accountant? The head of the Egyptian tax
service? See, all the smaller figures around him are doing different
activities. This one might be driving a chariot. This line could
be farmers or soldiers. See how they're carrying those pikes
or spears over their shoulders? It's hard to tell."
"I think they're soldiers. It looks like they're marching to war."
She nods. "I think you're right. So what is he doing? Counting them?
Making battle plans? He doesn't look like a general."
"He's writing about the battle," I answer, and somehow I'm sure. I walk ahead to the next wall painting. "Look, here's the central figure with his pen and papyrus. All around him are men in boats or on barges. This broad band of blue must be the Nile. What are these people doing? Swimming?"
"Drowning," Janice says. "See how wide the river is? It's a flood."
"The central figure isn't involved in the scenes, is he? He's observing and writing."
As we continue on and downward, more scenes are revealed by our torchlight.
A lion hunt. A horse race? What looks like the coronation of a pharaoh.
A horse race? I back up, and Janice motions impatiently for me to come on.
When I don't respond, she stomps back. "There's only one
horse," I say. Is the rider a woman?" For some minutes,
Janice and I stare at a painting of a long-haired figure riding
a galloping white horse. Unlike the other figures, shown in profile
according to the Egyptian custom, this one is drawn full face.
The lips are red and full. The eyes, outlined as if with kohl,
are the brightest blue. Janice shifts her gaze from me to the
figure and back; then moves on.
Far below the surface of the hill, the tunnel ends. We face what appears to be a solid limestone block. Hieroglyphics cover one section at Janice's eye level. She motions me forward to look. I laugh.
"What is it, some curse on those who enter here?"
I shake my head in disbelief. "Essentially, it says, 'Here is the
"That's great to know! But how do we move that block?" Janice gives it an ineffective kick.
"It says one more thing."
Janice leans over to look at the base of the block, and she, too, grins.
"It's on a track. See these grooves cut into the block and the floor?"
We lean our weight against the five-foot high block of stone. It's hard to get it started, but, once it starts to move, it slides as easily as a boat on water. Janice slips through the opening with her torch. "What do you see?" I ask her.
She quotes, "Marvelous things."
Realizing that it will probably snap like a match stick if the stone moves, I wedge my spare torch between the block and the wall. At least it makes me feel a little better. Then I duck and follow Janice into the chamber.
Marvelous things indeed! Although it's hard to gauge its dimensions
from the light thrown by the torches, I estimate the chamber to
be a twenty foot cube. From floor to ceiling, every wall is covered
with paintings and inscriptions. There are several stone tables,
large and small, and beautiful, ornate chairs. Around the room
are scattered deep, decorated jars of a type used to store papyri.
On the small tables are figurines and other rich objects. Unlike
the tunnel, damage from years and water seems small.
"That block is designed like a plug," Janice observes. "It's wider on this side than on the other and seals perfectly. Yet, somehow, it's set in grooves so it will glide easily. I doubt engineers today could do as well.
Janice finds a bracket in the wall and places her lit torch there. I follow suit. I inspect one jar, then another. "The papyri are gone," I say.
Janice looks in two more. "Dad's journal page said there were a lot of papyri. Did he move them? Or did someone else do it?"
I'm studying the largest inscription on the wall. Carved into solid rock, it is beneath a figure like those we saw in the tunnel. "Did you ever hear of a Harpsoptah? Or an Omm Shoshenk?"
"Harpsoptah? That sounds familiar. A high priest? Shoshenk was a late dynasty pharaoh, probably not really an Egyptian. Assyrian maybe? Omm Shoshenk would mean Shoshenk's mother. The foreign rulers that followed the New Kingdom usually took on the Egyptian culture, the religion, and so forth. I always thought it was an open question as to who conquered who."
"Never mind. What is this empty space under the inscription? It almost looks like a picture frame," I observe.
Janice pulls the stone fragments from her pocket. She fits one piece, my original piece, into the left center of the depression in the wall. "Hold this," she says, and I do. She places the other fragment to the right of the first. The fit between the two pieces and the "frame" is perfect. We can now see the size of the original tablet, about fourteen by twelve inches. Together, our piece covers about one-third of the total area.
"It's much smaller than I thought," I say. "I guess it's more of a stone tablet than part of a stele."
Janice shrugs. "Call it what you like. I just want to find
the rest. We know there at least two more pieces, and they tell
the beginning and the end of the story. We also know it was found
here by my father, NOT at Dahkla by Gruner."
"That's what your father wanted to tell you. I'll bet Tekmet was supposed to get that journal page to you a long time ago."
With a deep sigh, Janice removes the fragments and cradles them in her hands.
"Do you think this Harpsoptah wrote the story?"
"Read the whole inscription."
"It's some sort of ritual incantation, I think." I struggle to make out
the general meaning. "There's an abstraction sign here that probably means
the next symbol is a specialized one or some kind of coined term. It's
like saying, 'you won't know what this symbol means unless you already know
what this symbol means.' "
As is by rote, Janice says, "As best you can, Miss Pappas."
I read, "In praise of Ptah, earth-creator, life-giver, an offering of
ABSTRACTION COMING-SOMETHING-mother of Shoshenk honored by Harpsoptah, PROBABLY High Priest of SOMEPLACE Temple."
"Something, probably, someplace? Not up to your usual standards."
It's my turn to shrug.
"The temple is probably Memphis," Janice fills in. "Ptah was mainly a Memphite deity. I wonder if this Harpsoptah is the high priest associated with that cult. I remember something about a Harpson, a priest-scribe. He was the brother of one of the pharaohs, I think. I wish I could remember what dynasty. The only reason I remember him at all is that his name didn't seem to fit with the Amenhoteps and Akhenatens and Setis."
"What's that?" I ask.
"I said his name didn't. . . ."
Janice moves quickly to a corner of the chamber. I turn toward
the entrance. Appearing from behind the limestone block are a
flashlight and a hand followed by a thin, black-clad man.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 12
The light of the torches reflects off metal-framed glasses and sharklike teeth. "Dr. Covington, I presume?" His voice is high and nasal, with a slight Teutonic accent. He carries a silver-handled swagger stick.
"Gruner," says Janice. She reaches for her jacket pocket. Another man, broad and stolid, has squeezed through the small opening between block and wall. In his left hand is a large black pistol, which he is aiming at my head. Janice's hand moves out from her side.
Two more men emerge in succession, as if appearing from the rock that surrounds us. The third, although a little taller, looks much like the second. In his right hand, he holds a gun, the twin of the other. Where the other men are dressed in boots and desert camouflage, the fourth man, small and neat, wears a dark blue business suit and shined black shoes. I recognize him from the club, as the man Janice identified as Breen. The Nazi, she had said.
The third man approaches me, holding my eyes with his, light blue and icy. His double walks behind Janice and, reaching into her pocket, relieves her of her gun. Without warning, he shoves her hard, and she falls to the stone floor in front of Gruner. She starts to rise but settles to the ground with her captor's pistol behind her left ear.
"Zeigmann, Holst," Gruner orders, "if one of them moves, shoot the other."
My muscles have tensed at the rough treatment given Janet, but I make
myself relax. Zeigmann-or Holst-takes a tight grip on my upper arm
The left-handed gunman jerks Janice to her feet. "Make up your mind," she says. He shakes her small body as if she has no weight, and her mouth snaps shut.
"Search them," Gruner says. The man holding me sticks his gun in his belt and runs his hands briefly over my body. He reaches into pockets that hold nothing more dangerous than a handkerchief. Resuming his hold on my arm, he again places the gun to my head. The other man proceeds to more roughly search Janice. He finds her big knife and sticks it in his belt. Looking at Gruner, he shakes his head.
Gruner lifts Janice's knapsack from where I've laid it on the floor. Dumping its contents on the largest stone table, he finds the flashlight and another knife. He pockets the knife, and hands the flashlight to Breen, who handles it like some unknown object. Gruner picks up a silver picture frame. Inside, I know, is a photograph of a handsome, young soldier. Gruner carefully sets it on the table as it would be placed on a young woman's night stand. He smiles and looks at Janice. "A boyfriend, Dr. Covington? Or a husband I don't know about?" He shakes the sack once more and, satisfied that it is empty, turns his attention back to Janet.
He faces her, no more than a foot away.
"Dr. Covington," Gruner says, his voice quiet and reasonable, "all we want are the two fragments of the Osorkon stele. We know you have them in your possession. Give them to me, and you and your friend may leave unharmed."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Janice lies.
Gruner's hand moves so quickly, I don't see the backward motion, but the resulting slap resounds in this stone chamber. I feel sick. Except for a slight intake of breath, Janice makes no sound. Her tongue flicks out to touch the blood at the corner of her mouth.
"Dr. Covington, Janice," Gruner soothes, "tell us now or later, but you will tell us, you know."
Janice accurately spits in his face. Gruner's expression doesn't change as he removes an immaculate handkerchief from his breast pocket and calmly wipes his face. "Expose her right arm, Holst," he orders. Absurdly, I think, so my captor is Zeigmann.
Janice glances in my direction, but she doesn't struggle as Holst removes her jacket and tosses it on the floor. She rolls her own right sleeve above the elbow. "That table." Gruner points to one of the smaller tables, one that holds no artifacts. Holst shoves Janice toward the table and forces her to kneel. He places her bare forearm on the table top, holding it there by a tight grip on her wrist, and places his pistol against her left temple.
Janice makes eye contact with Gruner, and her expression is hard.
Gruner seems to show her the swagger stick, 18 inches long, flexible
and leather-covered. He raises it above his head and pauses,
as if to give Janice time to think of what will come. Then he
lowers it with his blinding speed, and this time Janice yelps.
A welt raises, a thin seam of blood rising along the mark.
Janice swallows the yell and glares with greater fierceness into Gruner's flat, dark eyes. Her expression frightens me more than her tormentor's for I know what hers will mean.
"Where are the pieces?" Gruner asks.
"We left them in Cairo," Janice replies.
"That's a lie. You had them on the boat." Gruner's
contradiction carries neither heat nor sorrow. He raises the
stick again, and I cringe, but Janice follows its trajectory calmly.
Again it whips through the air, and Janice, knowing how it will
sting, issues only a strangled cry. Another bloody welt criss-crosses
the first. I glance at Breen, standing just inside the chamber,
an audience to this awful drama. Perhaps he'll stop it. His
expression is one, not of disgust, but of fascination, and I know
the futility of that hope.
"I won't ask the question again. You'll tell me when you're ready."
Janice sets her jaw as the stick rises, higher than before.
"Stop!" I shout, surprised that my own voice can be so loud. My captor places a meaty paw over my mouth, but Gruner says, "Let her speak."
"No, Mel," Janice says, low and compellingly.
Avoiding her gaze, I concentrate on Gruner. "When I heard you in the tunnel, Janice was standing by the large inscription with the fragments in her hand. By the time you entered, she was in that corner, and the fragments were gone." Gruner and my eyes follow the same course and fall on a storage jar.
"Look," Gruner orders Zeigmann.
Pulling me with him, Zeigmann crosses to the jar. He looks inside the jar, but the interior is dark. "Find them, and take them out," he says. I can barely reach the bottom of the jar, but my fingers finally touch the fragments, and I pull them out. As I hold them in my hand, I look at Janice, who still kneels, her arm pinned across the table top. She doesn't meet my eyes.
Gruner approaches, and I place the pieces of the tablet in his
outstretched hand. Breen speaks for the first time. "Give
them to me," he says. "Both pieces should have been
mine." His voice is cultured, vaguely European, and I remember
that he is supposed to be Swiss.
Gruner laughs, "You let that grave robber steal the one you had. If it weren't for me, we wouldn't have them back!" He puts both pieces in his own pocket, and Breen angrily leaves the chamber.
"Tie them up and finish," Gruner commands, and then he, too, is gone.
Holst jerks Janice to her feet, and she slumps against him in a faint. As he moves his gun aside to support her, she brings both hands up to catch him under his chin and tries to knee him at the same time. He blocks this with his thigh.
As Zeigmann starts forward, he grasps both my wrists in his left hand. I ram my elbow into his midsection and am rewarded with a loud outrush of air. Before I can pull away, pain explodes in the right side of my head. I fall, and only his grip on my wrists keeps me from striking the other side of my head on the hard floor.
I hear loud cursing in both English and German and, when my vision clears, see that Holst has subdued Janice and is shaking her small body like a rag doll. He slips his pistol into a holster at his side and uses his body to press her against the chamber's wall. His fingers work at her shirt front, tearing off the top button and then the next.
Zeigmann growls something in German, and Holst answers him, an ugly grin splitting his face. Janice struggles, and he slaps her, a slow, deliberate act. She ceases fighting, but he slaps her again.
Zeigmann's words this time are sharp and hold a challenge that is unmistakable, even in a language I don't understand. Holst and he hold each other's eyes, then Holst drops his gaze. He gives Janice one more shake, then shoves her toward a corner, where she falls. Zeigmann pulls me to the same corner and pushes me down. Keeping his eyes and gun pointed in our direction, he says in English, "Don't move or you die. Holst, get some rope from the truck."
I put my arms around Janice, who seems smaller than I remember. She tenses, then relaxes and lets me guide her head to my shoulder. My own head throbs, and I can feel a lump swelling above my ear. In my whole life, I have never been struck, and I have always feared it. Now I have been hit-with a gun-as hard as I can imagine, and I have survived.
Janice rests her head on my shoulder until Holst returns with a large coil of thin rope. When Janice looks up, it is with hate in her green eyes. My own thoughts surprise me for I am sure that if he touches my friend again I'll kill him.
Holst draws his pistol, and Ziegmann holsters his. Taking the
coil of rope from Holst, he motions for me to hold my hands out.
Reluctantly, I let go of Janice and do as he orders. He ties
my hands tightly. He starts to do the same with Janice, but Holst
stops him with some words in German. Zeigmann nods and says in
English, "Behind your back." Janice does as he asks,
and he binds her hands that way. He orders me to rise, and he
lifts Janice to her feet. "Sit by the leg of the big table,"
he says. We follow his orders again, and I wonder how badly Janice
is injured for she is so uncharacteristically meek. Zeigmann
runs a loop of the rope around the table leg and each of our ankles
and back through the bonds on our hands, effectively tethering
us together and to the heavy stone table. I am lying on my side,
legs under the table, and Janice sits, leaning against the table
Our captors proceed to strip from the tomb everything they can carry. As they work, they talk in their native tongue. When they are done, only the stone tables and larger jars remain.
Once, while both are gone, Janice and I speak. "Please don't be angry that I told about the fragments," I start.
"It's all right," she answers. "Gruner was right. I would have told. But I would have been stubborn first, and that would have cost me."
"What have Zeigmann and Holst been saying?" I ask, not sure I want to know.
"It's all in German. How do I know?"
"You speak German. Tereise told me."
She frowns. "Tereise is awfully chatty-for a spy."
I hear footsteps in the tunnel. "What did they say?"
"Holst still wants to rape us. He says he'll take me, and Zeigmann can have you. Zeigmann says their orders are just to kill us, and that's what they're going to do."
"I had to ask."
Zeigmann enters alone. He has several thin tubes in his hand
and a coil of what looks like string. He kneels in the opposite
corner of the room.
"Is that how you killed my father?" Janice asks. "With dynamite?"
Zeigmann looks up from his work. "Nothing personal. Gruner made an offer, but he wouldn't go along." I watch as he places something in the end of one of the tubes and attaches a piece of the cord.
Although I recognize the dangerous gleam in her eyes for what it is, Janice continues in the same conversational tone. "You just follow Gruner's orders, huh?"
Zeigmann carefully measures out a long piece of cord, almost three feet, I guess. That done, he says, "Gruner is in charge." He attaches one end of the cord to the single stick of dynamite. He binds the other four sticks together with tape and prepares them with a much shorter fuse. He crosses to us and squats so that his eyes and Janice's are on the same level. "The concussion will probably kill you," he says. He pulls his gun from his holster and holds it to my head. "Or I can make it even quicker for you and your friend."
"We'll wait," Janice says evenly.
"Patience is a virtue," he replies and rises. He kneels
in the corner and lights the fuse. He hurriedly crosses the chamber.
His running footsteps echo in the tunnel, and then Janice and
I are alone.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 13
The fuse hisses like a snake, and a sharp smell fills the air.
"Janice, I . . . ."
"I have a knife," Janice interrupts. "See if you can get to it."
"Where is it?" I ask.
"If Holst had torn off one more button, he would have found it. Hurry!"
I strain and stretch and am just able to get my nearly numb fingers on the handle of the small knife. I'm careful as I withdraw it, afraid the blade will cut her. As it comes free, I fumble and nearly drop it. "Pardon me."
"Hurry," Janice says again.
"Be quiet." Then I have the knife. I can't turn the
short blade to cut my own ropes, but I am able to slice through
the bonds on Janice's hands. She scrambles toward the fuse, but
is stopped short, her legs tethered to me and to the table. I
glance at the fuse. I cut the rope another place and then another.
Janice hurls herself forward along the stone floor and lands
on dynamite and fuse.
There's a deafening roar, and the chamber shakes. Large chunks of rock fall from ceiling and walls. I'm huddled beneath the table, waiting for the rest of the ceiling to drop, when I realize the cascade of rock has stopped. For some moments, I stay as I am, afraid to raise my head and look at Janice, fearful that what I see will destroy me, too.
Janice laughs. My head snaps up. Janice is sitting in the corner of the cave, back against one wall. She holds up her hands. In one, she grasps the stick of dynamite. In the other is a short piece of fuse, not more than four or five inches long. "This fuse took a little longer than the other," she says, "but Zeigmann timed 'em pretty close!" She places the explosive in one pocket and the fuse in another and crawls under the table with me. I burst into tears, and Janice awkwardly puts her arms around me and pats my back. "Oh, Mel, everything's all right now."
I stop crying. Janice's hair and shirt are coated with limestone dust, and I wish I could brush it away. "Everything's all right?" I ask. I swallow a giggle, afraid of what will happen if my tears turn into laughter. "What do you suppose that other explosion, the one with FOUR sticks of dynamite, was for?"
"To seal the tunnel, of course," she says matter-of-factly. "From the feel of it, it probably did a good job, too. I tell you, that Zeigmann is good at his work."
"But everything is all right?"
Janice takes the knife. She cuts my bonds at wrists and ankles and rubs my arms to encourage circulation. My hands tingle; then feeling returns.
"Look, we're alive. And unhurt," she adds.
"Okay, relatively unhurt. That's better than relatively dead. The tunnel entrance is undoubtedly sealed. But we WILL get out." She pauses.
I look at Janice and wonder if we're thinking the same thing.
As she continues, I know we are. "I'm sure my father and
the workmen were murdered before the entrance was collapsed the
other time. That part about hearing metal on rock? Someone lied.
And after the rescue shaft was dropped, the damage to the rest
of the tomb was exaggerated so no one from the government would
"So the papyri and the other antiquities could be sold?"
She nods. "From what Breen said about the fragments of the stele, my guess is that each person involved in the theft took a piece. Maybe it was a way to seal the bargain." She rises and reaches down to pull me to my feet. "Watch your head." Finding her knapsack, she starts replacing the items Gruner dumped. She pauses over the photograph and looks at me. When I don't speak, she returns that, too, to the sack.
"Now what?" I ask.
"Let's survey the damage. Damn! They took my flashlight. I don't see my extra torch, and these are almost done for."
I pick up the torch I placed between block and wall and hand it to her.
"Great!" She lights it from one of those now burning feebly on the wall. "I don't see my lighter either," Janice complains. "Damn thieves. Take anything that isn't nailed down."
"Or too heavy to carry," I add, looking at the stone table.
Janice and the torch make their way past the block and into the tunnel, and I hastily follow. Behind us, the other torches gutter out.
In the tunnel are large chunks of rocks that weren't there before, but the passage is open-until we reach the only exit. That is firmly blocked by tons of rock.
"Can't we blast our way out?" I ask.
Janice shakes her head. "One stick of dynamite wouldn't budge that pile."
We stand for some time, reality setting in. I look up. "Isn't this where you said the rescue shaft was dropped?"
She nods. "But that was plugged after the bodies were removed."
"Plugged with what?"
Janice holds the torch up, and now she studies one part of the ceiling that looks different from the rest. "Rocks, maybe debris from the earlier digging, junk from the camp. . . ."
"Small stuff, right? I mean, who's going to drag big blocks of stone up that hill just to fill a hole?"
"Small stuff," she repeats. I look in her eyes, and the green fire is back. "One stick might do it if it's placed in the ceiling."
"There's a problem. The only fuse we have is very short. After I light it, I'm going to have to run like hell. Maybe we can clear a path."
I interrupt. "Speaking of short, have you thought about how you'll reach the fuse?"
"I'll stand on something." She looks around. "We'll pile some rocks. We have plenty of rocks."
"You'll stand on a pile of rocks to light the fuse. Then you'll climb or jump down before you run. With four inches of fuse burning." She opens her mouth to argue, but I say, "Janice, you would be risking my life, too. If this doesn't work, we both die." In demonstration, I reach up and easily touch the ceiling.
Janice sighs. "Curse of my life." She studies the ceiling. Handing me the small knife, she points. "See if you can chip away some stones there and make a place that will hold the dynamite. She wedges the torch in an upright position between two large rocks. "I'll work on clearing a path."
We work in silence for some time. "Janice, look at this, and see what you think."
Janice inspects my work. "That's good."
"How will we keep the dynamite in the hole?" From her knapsack, she removes a pack of gum. She hands me two sticks and takes the remaining three sticks herself. "I don't chew gum," I say.
"Good time to start." I take the gum.
Janice removes the dynamite from her pocket. She reaches in one end and removes what looks like a small disk. She checks it over and, seemingly satisfied, replaces it. With the knife, she trims a tiny section from the burned end of the fuse. Then she inserts the other end into the disk. There can't be four inches of fuse protruding from the dynamite.
She hands me the explosive, and I carefully insert it into the hole above my head. "Use the gum to hold it in place." I remove the gum from my mouth and pack it on one side of the dynamite. Janice holds out the sticky mass she's been chewing, and I look at it with distaste. Finally, I take it and pack it around the other side. When I let go, the explosive stays in place, the short fuse hanging down.
"Tell me you're a fast runner," Janice says.
I shake my head. "I've always been awkward."
Janice holds a cigar in her hand. She bites off one end and lights
the other from the torch. She puffs until the lit end glows.
"Last smoke?" I ask.
She smiles around the stogie and takes one more puff before removing it. "You can't use the torch to light the fuse," she says. "It might go up all at once." She takes another puff, then hands me the cigar. "Draw on it to keep it glowing," she advises. I place the cigar in my mouth and try to follow her instructions. I choke and go into a coughing fit. "Don't inhale! Just puff." I try again and am rewarded by seeing the tip glow. "And remember," she adds, in her eyes a wicked gleam, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
She lifts the torch. "I'll go a few yards down the tunnel in line with the cleared path. You light the fuse with the cigar and immediately run toward the torch. Don't wait to see if the fuse is burning. As soon as you touch it with the cigar, take off. Got that?"
"No problem. Here, take my glasses. I don't want to get them broken. You go all the way to where the tunnel divides."
"Will you be able to see the torch from there?" I nod. "One more thing. This is straight dynamite, not the ammonia type usually used in enclosed spaces."
I look at her as if I don't know what she's talking about. I don't.
"There will be some poisonous fumes, but, with only one stick, they shouldn't be too bad. The four sticks didn't kill us, right? The other thing is that straight dynamite puts out hotter gases that expand faster."
I still don't understand.
"Even one stick of this stuff will make a very big boom!"
That I understand. Janice hesitates a moment, then takes the torch and heads toward the other end of the tunnel. I squint, but the light soon becomes a blur and then passes beyond my limited sight. I puff once more on the cigar until the tip glows red. Reaching up, I locate the fuse with my free hand, then touch the cigar against it. Against Janice's advice, I make sure the fuse is burning, then drop the cigar and race toward my friend, counting on my sense of direction and memory of the cleared path. It seems I've taken only a few steps when there's a deafening roar, and a giant hand swats me to the ground.
I wake with Janice lifting rocks off my back and legs. I try to move.
"Bel, my lil! You pay hab brome poems!"
"What?" I shake my head and try to still the ringing in my ears. "Give me my glasses." She does, and at least now I can see to read her lips.
"I said, Mel, lie still. You may have broken bones."
"I'm fine," I say. "I just can't hear." I put fingers against my ears and press to try to clear them. Better. "Help me up."
Janice looks doubtful, but what is she going to do? I have to move. She helps me up. We look toward the cave entrance. "Why isn't there any light?" I ask.
With me leaning on Janice's shoulder, we walk toward the site of the blast. Was this all for nothing? We stand beneath the spot where the dynamite was placed. Above, some twenty feet above our heads, the darkness is decorated with a circle of stars.
I finally ask, "How do we get out?"
"Climb. Let's get all that rope our buddies left us."
A few minutes later, Janice is ready. I've tied the rope back together with non-slip sailor's knots, and Janice has tied one end around her waist. "Pardon me," I say, "but doesn't the rope keep you from falling only if the other end is tied to something up above?"
"I won't fall," she says. "I'm going to need both hands-and both feet-free. Give me a boost."
I cup my hands as if giving her a leg up onto a horse. I lift
as Janice springs, and her head and shoulders are through the
hole in the tunnel ceiling. She steps on my shoulders, and I
support part of her slight weight as she searches for a handhold
to pull herself up. "Another boost," she says, and
I slip my hands under her toes and push. When I look up, she
is wedged in the hole, shoulders pressed against one side, feet
against the other. "Just like Santa up the chimney,"
she says, and she starts to climb.
A few minutes later, Janice shouts, "I tied this end of the rope around a rock outcropping. I think it will hold."
"Yeah, climb on up."
I study the rope dangling in front of me.
"You don't know how to climb a rope, do you?"
Many minutes and instructions and false starts later, I'm sitting
on the hill beside Janice under a bright Egyptian moon.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 14
Janice and I climb down the hill that shelters Harpsoptah's tomb. Our first objective is the well. Janice pumps the lever, and we thankfully watch clear water fill the stone bowl. We drink and bathe our faces. The slightly metallic taste of the water no longer bothers me. I find a handkerchief in my trousers pocket and soak it. I ask Janice to hold out her right arm, and, after hesitating, she does. For the first time, I see how deeply Gruner's stick has cut. As I bathe the hurt, tears spring unbidden to my eyes.
"How could anyone hurt another human being like that, Janice?" I ask.
"Deliberately, just to get what they want?"
"Oh, Mel, people hurt and kill other people for a lot less. Or for nothing. Haven't you seen cruelty before?" She stares at me. "You really haven't, have you?"
I shake my head. "Well, there was Smythe in Macedonia. He certainly wasn't very nice."
Janice's expression is one of wonder. "To grow up in a world without cruelty. No wonder you're the way you are."
I feel myself stiffening, wondering if this is an insult. "What
do you mean?"
"Just that you're so naive, as if you don't know how to distrust." She pulls her arm away, and I let her. Without bandages or disinfectants, there's nothing more to be done for it. "Do you have any idea what's really going on in Europe, in Africa? What was happening long before Americans got involved?"
"I read newspapers," I say. "And Tereise told me some things."
Janice sighs. "I don't know if you're lucky or not. Being so sheltered has left you with an innocence I lost when I was about eleven. But it's also left you unprepared for the world you're trying to live in now."
"Did I do so badly today?" I ask.
She smiles. "No, you did well. I guess that proves something. I'm just not sure what."
I make a confession. "I wanted to kill that man."
"No, I just wanted to stop him. I wanted to kill Holst."
"Good instincts." Janice rises and looks around. "Our canteens and water bags were in the tunnel entrance. They're either under a few tons of rock, or those bastards took them."
"We have the well," I remind her.
"I can't carry the well with me." She reaches into her knapsack and this time comes up with a small tin box. I laugh, thinking of those tiny circus cars, from which issue any number of clowns and all their umbrellas and baby carriages and other paraphernalia.
"Just a thought," I say. "It's nothing." I hiccup.
"Right," she says doubtfully. "Dried dates." She shakes out the contents of the box and gives me half. The dates are VERY dry and difficult to chew, but they taste like ambrosia.
"What do you suppose ambrosia tasted like?" I ask.
"Ambrosia. You know, food of the gods."
"Steak and eggs," Janice says. "At the Marina in Denver."
"Aunt Helen's chocolate cake with homemade chocolate ice cream," I correct, then add, "or dried dates and well water."
We chew contentedly for some minutes.
"I could travel tonight," Janice says. "That way, the lack of water wouldn't matter so much."
"What are you talking about?" I ask.
"I'm going to Dahkla Oasis. I'm sure that's where Breen and Gruner and friends were headed." She points out some tire tracks that lead to the northwest. "I've been thinking about how they get their merchandise out of the country. There's no way that bunch could get anything past the British or Egyptian authorities. They have to have a contact who does it for them. I figure they have a place to keep the antiquities until they can be moved and a place to meet their contact. Where better than Gruner's old dig?"
Janice looks at the moon. "It's hard to believe we were in that tomb for only a few hours. I need some rest before I go. But what if I'm sleeping, and they get away?"
"Get away? Janice, will you talk sense? Gruner and the others didn't just take or bury the canteens. They took your gun. And there are four of them, all mean, and at least three of them willing to do something about it. Are you seriously thinking about going after them like we're the posse heading out after the rustlers?"
"I didn't say anything about 'we.' I'M going after them.
They killed my father, and they did their best to kill us. They
aren't going to get away with it." Her expression is so
fierce, I think for a moment she might be capable of capturing
four dangerous men. Unarmed. With only me to help.
That moment passes, but I know I won't let her go alone.
"Let's get some rest," Janice says. She leads the way to the other side of the old wall. There's no wood for a fire, and no way to light it anyway, so we huddle together in the cool night air. I know I won't sleep, but, after a while, I do.
I wake with a hand clamped tightly over my mouth, and look into Janice's eyes, only a few inches away. Behind her, I see the pale light of dawn. Then I hear the sound of a truck motor. It is only a few feet away. My widening eyes probably tell Janice I'm fully awake because she removes her hand from my mouth. "They're back?" I whisper. "Why?"
"Maybe to check their handiwork. Just hope they don't climb the hill," she says as quietly. She slowly raises her head to see over the wall. I follow suit. A military-looking vehicle, desert-camouflaged, with large, balloon tires, parks between our position and the well. As the passenger door opens, Janice pushes my head down and ducks herself.
"Janice? Mel?" It is a familiar feminine voice.
Janice's head pops up. "Tereise?" She lets go of my head, and I peek over the wall. Tereise and a tall man, both dressed in desert fatigues, are walking toward us. I recognized Zepp and feel self-conscious that I am wearing his clothes.
Janice scrambles over the wall and grabs Tereise in a tight embrace.
Tereise enthusiastically returns the hug, then holds her friend
at arm's length. "Are you all right? What happened to your
cheek?" She touches Janice's right cheek, which shows the
beginning of a purplish bruise. Janice hastily pulls her sleeve
over her injured arm, but Tereise stops her. She clucks over
the injury. "Antone brought a first aid kit," she says.
"Janice, we know you, remember?"
I walk around the wall and approach the group of old friends. "I'm very glad to see you," I tell Tereise and Zepp.
"Hello, Mel," Tereise says with a smile. "You have any boo-boos that need bandaging?"
I shake my head. The bump on my head is smaller, and the ringing in my ears has started to subside.
Tereise takes charge, directing Zepp to get the first aid kit and Janice to sit on the step of the truck. Tereise pours a disinfectant into the cuts and blows to reduce the stinging. She skillfully wraps white gauze around Janice's forearm and rips and ties it to secure it. "Those look like marks from a whip," she says, as if she has seen such welts before. Perhaps she has.
"Gruner hit me a couple of times with that swagger stick he carries," Janice says.
"Gruner hit you?" Zepp asks.
"Yeah," Janice answers, "and your 'businessman' friend Breen watched. Then they left us in a tomb they tried to blow up. Nice guys."
"Start at the beginning," Tereise orders, "from the time I left you."
Janice does, and we listen raptly to the story she weaves. Although she minimizes the injuries done and leaves out entirely the attempted rape, her account leaves even me breathless. When she is done, Tereise's and Zepp's jaws are set. Zepp's normally bored expression is replaced by a look of grim determination.
"You're sure they're heading for Dahkla Oasis?" Zepp asks.
"Where else would they go in that direction?" Janice points out the tracks heading deeper into the desert. "They have a truckload of stolen antiquities. They can't exactly drive them into Cairo. British Security would be sure to pick them up. They have to have a contact who can get the stuff out of the country."
"Speaking of British Security, Janice," Zepp interjects,
"they're still looking for you. Yesterday, when I saw the
car was back, and the Hat was gone, I went to the club looking
for Tereise. Two huge Security Officers were there questioning
the owner and the bartender about you. Something about your entry
Janice rolls her eyes, and I ask, "How did you two get here so quickly?"
Zepp answers. "As soon as I found out Tereise hadn't been to the club, I realized she had come with you. So I talked a friend at the Consulate out of this truck, and I headed upriver."
"Is that a truck like you borrowed?" I ask Janice.
"No," she says, "I never get the good stuff."
Tereise picks up the story. "I ran the Hat aground on the eastern shore about 10 kilometers downriver-at one of those irrigation wheels. I was preparing to hike to the village, when Antone showed up. He said he just ran the truck along the flood plain, figuring he would spot the Hat sooner or later."
"We would have been here sooner," Zepp adds, "but we had to go farther downriver to find a ferry to bring the truck across."
"I'm going to the oasis after Gruner and his crew," Janice states. "I need the truck, but no one else is obligated to go."
"Oh, we're going," Tereise says. Zepp nods and is rewarded by a warm smile from his love.
"I'm not staying behind," I say.
Tereise leads the way to the covered back of the truck and opens
the flap. Inside are several large metal cans, some marked "fuel"
and three labeled "water." There are also two wooden
crates, each about two feet square. Tereise lifts the lid from
one. "All we have are hand guns," Tereise apologizes.
"Anything else is too difficult to smuggle in. Take your
Her eyes gleaming, Janice removes a bluish-black pistol, the kind they call an automatic in the detective films. She sorts through boxes of ammunition and comes up with an extra clip. She turns and sights the gun, her small hand dwarfed by the size of the weapon.
"I don't know why you bother," Tereise chides. "You never shoot anyone."
"Bad aim," Janice says.
"Nonsense. You could shoot the head off a match at a hundred paces." To me, Tereise explains, "She's just soft-hearted."
"Liar." Janice slides the clip out and pulls the trigger several times.
"Good action. This one will do."
Tereise takes out what looks like a smaller version of the same gun. She looks questioningly at me. I shake my head and then spot something else on the floor of the truck. I pick up a metal tube or pipe, about four feet long and perhaps two inches in diameter. It is surprisingly heavy. "May I have this?" I ask.
She laughs, but nods. "How do we pick 'em?" she asks Janice. At my puzzled look, she explains, "Antone won't carry a gun either."
I step away from the truck and take a practice swing. The only sport at which I showed any promise when I attended Ashley Hall was softball, and, except for being longer, the pipe feels much like a bat. Realizing that Janice and Tereise are staring at me, I blush and walk back to the truck. Zepp has joined us, and Janice points to the markings on the other box.
"Is that a short-wave radio?" she asks.
Zepp looks it over before answering. "I guess. It was in the truck when I got it. I picked up the other box from a friend of Tereise's. I figured we might need it."
I can see Janice's opinion of her friend's intelligence being revised upward. "Good figuring. So what are we waiting for? Let's go get the bastards."
I return my "weapon" to where I found it, and we all squeeze into the cab of the truck, Janice and Tereise in the middle, Janice almost sitting on Tereise's lap, Zepp driving.
Janice questions and advises Zepp about the route he is taking
and the slow speed he is driving, but he tolerantly ignores her.
To me, he seems to be an excellent driver, and I discover that
truck gears don't always have to grind. It appears to be something
to do with using the clutch. I lean against the passenger door
and watch the sun spread its rays over the barren landscape.
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 15
The landscape is lit by the huge disk of the sun when Zepp cuts the truck engine and lets the vehicle roll to a stop. I look around. The desert looks no different.
"Dahkla Oasis is just beyond that small rise," he says.
Rise? I think. It all looks flat to me.
We clamber out. I reach up to help Janice down, but she shakes off my hand and drops lightly beside me, followed by Tereise. Zepp walks around the front of the truck. "Stay here," Tereise says to Zepp and me. She and Janice crouch and move across what Zepp has called the rise. In a few minutes, they are back.
Janice grins at me. "We got them surrounded, pard,"
she says. "Here's the plan. They have a couple of tents
pitched on this end of the lake. They all seem to be in the closer
tent. They have two trucks, both parked beside the other tent.
Mel, you and I will work our way around to the left and prepare
a little distraction. Tereise and Antone will work their way
around to the right and be waiting for them when they come out
to see what we're up to. We'll catch them between us. Any questions?"
"What do we do with them once we have them?" Zepp asks.
"The live ones we take back to Cairo and turn over to the Egyptian authorities." Janice's fierce expression suggests there may not be any live ones. She reaches into the back of the truck and removes one of the fuel cans and a couple of rags. She hands these to me. I reach around her and retrieve my metal pipe. Janice slips the straps of her knapsack over her shoulders and sticks the automatic pistol behind her belt buckle.
"Antone, got a lighter?" He hands her a silver one, and I can make out his engraved initials.
"It's not a zippo," he says, "and I want it back."
Janice doesn't answer, but slips it into her pants pocket. "Come
on, Mel," she whispers and leads me away from our companions.
We take a wide arc, eventually coming back to the camp from the
opposite direction. We lie on the ground near a tent and look
at two trucks parked side-by-side. Janice sits up and takes the
fuel can from me. She soaks both rags with gasoline.
"Stay here." Janice runs in a crouch to the nearest truck. She removes the gas cap and stuffs much of one rag into the opening. She repeats the operation on the other truck. As she reaches for the lighter, a man steps out of the shadow of the tent and is suddenly behind her. He grabs Janice around the neck, and sunlight flashes on the metal object he raises above her head. Not knowing how I"ve gotten there, I'm beside him, my metal club held in both hands and pulled back over my right shoulder. I swing it forward, shifting my weight from my right foot to my left and remembering to follow through. There is a satisfying thunk, and he drops to the ground, the knife still gripped in his right hand.
"Zeigmann," Janice comments.
"Is he dead?"
"I hope so." She feels for a pulse at his throat. "He's alive, but he won't be coming to for a while. Grab his other arm." Together, we drag him behind the tent.
"Time for the fireworks," Janice says. She pulls out the silver lighter and flicks it for an instant flame. "Nice," she says, and I hope Zepp owns another lighter. She touches the flame to the rag in this tank and then the other. There is a whoosh! and we dive for cover. As we hit the ground and roll, there is a tremendous roar, and the bright day becomes brighter yet.
We hear shouts and gunfire from the direction of the lake. Janice jumps up, drawing her pistol, and runs toward the sounds. Wondering what I'm doing, I follow.
Zepp is standing just outside the other tent and, in his hand, is a small gray revolver. I see Gruner beyond, lying on the canvas floor. Zepp is looking from the revolver to the still form and back, as if trying to make the connection.
"Where's Tereise and the others?" Janice shouts. Zepp,
coming out of his daze, motions behind him. There's the sound
of a truck starting, and Janice and Zepp take off at a run. I
tear my eyes away from Gruner's body and race after them. I realize
that I've dropped my pipe after hitting Zeigmann and now have
no weapon. Still, I run. There's the sharp report of two shots,
and I run harder.
Tereise walks toward us over the small rise, gun still in her hand. Zepp reaches her first, with Janice and me close behind. Tereise shakes her head. "They got away," she says, "in our truck."
Janice's eyes and hands search for wounds. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Tereise answers. "That was me firing. All I hit was the back of the damned truck. When Antone and I got to the tent, Gruner was the only one there. I got the drop on him and took his gun. I left Antone to guard him with that gun and went to warn you. What was that shot from the camp, by the way?"
"Antone shot Gruner," Janice says.
"He tried to jump me," Zepp explains.
"Really?" Tereise's eyebrows raise. "Anyway, just then the trucks blew up. That's when I saw the other two running over this rise."
"Breen and Holst," Janice says. "Zeigmann's behind the other tent. Mel took a little batting practice on his head."
"All right, Mel!" Tereise praises me. "I guess we chose the right partners after all."
We return to the tents. Zepp and Janice find rope and go to secure Zeigmann in case he wakes up. Then, together, they drag Gruner's body to the other tent. Tereise finds a small piece of canvas and throws it over the spot where he had lain.
There's a camp kitchen near the back of the tent, and Tereise starts opening tins. By the time Zepp and Janice return, Tereise is ready to serve us all hot tea. "Soup in a few minutes," she says. "There's only one burner." We sit companionably around the table in chairs occupied not long ago by enemies. Enemies. It gives me pause. Except for girls' school bullies, I've never had an enemy before.
Tereise serves the soup and some stale bread she has found. "Ambrosia," Janice says, with a glance at me.
Tereise asks, "What?"
"You had to be there." Tereise looks puzzled, but doesn't ask.
After we have eaten, Janice nods at Antone, who places three objects on the table. I look at Janice. "Gruner had all three," she says.
Two are the stone fragments Janice carried to Cashi Zun. Janice fits these together. "The first one must have been given to Dr. Krykos, maybe as a bribe for his cooperation and silence. The second one was Breen's, the one Tekmet stole." The third is twice as large as the other two, and Janice fits it above the others. "This one was probably Gruner's. It looks like we have two-thirds of the puzzle now. We're only missing the bottom."
"We'll have to find someone to translate it," Zepp says. "I have an acquaintance at Chicago House. . . ."
Janice interrupts. "Mel can translate it. Can't you, Mel?"
I nod, already unable to tear my eyes away from the symbols. "Paper? Pen?" Tereise places these on the table. The others probably stay, but it's as if I'm alone with the stone fragments and the story they are trying to tell. A couple of times, I turn, expecting my reference books to be within easy reach, but the text is straight-forward, and I'm now familiar with the writer's style.
Finally, I turn my attention to my audience of three, and I begin
THE SUN BEATS DOWN upon the travelers as they cross the desert sands. This is a caravan of comfort, carrying M`Kare`, wife of the great Osorkon, prince of Heracleopolis, high priest of the god Ptah. Far from any city or oasis, bandits come across the desert, white-robed, riding pure white horses, hearts as hot as the sun. Guards pledged to defend the princess die bravely, cut by swords, as grain before the scythe. Others try to flee the bandits' harshness, but they are caught, and they, too, die. The bandits take the goods and gold and princess.
Upon the bloody sand, the bandits take their ease and argue about the division of the spoils. The princess can be heard crying above the wailing of the rising desert wind. Out of the halo of the sunset come defenders of the crying princess. A warrior woman and her companion. With stealth and strength, they attack and leave no bandit standing. Just then comes the Khamsin, storm that heralds summer, but chokes both man and beast.
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,
"That's all there is," I say in the ensuing silence.
The Gabrielle Stele, Chapter 16
Tereise, Janice, and I sit around the table in Gruner's tent. Zepp has gone to check on Zeigmann. Tereise breaks the silence first. "You know, that warrior woman sounds like Xena."
"You know about her?" I ask.
"Sure. Do you think anyone could grow up around the Covingtons and not know about Xena? For a while, Janice thought she WAS Xena." As Tereise goes on, I see for the first time that Janice can blush. "She ran around in her cape, carrying a wooden sword, and looking for evil doers behind every rock."
"A cape?" I ask.
"I was twelve," Janice explains.
"I see. Did you play too, Tereise?"
"Sure, but I didn't get to play Xena. I only got to play the sidekick, what was her name, Janice?"
"Yeah," Tereise says. "I had to play Gabrielle. All I ever got to do was get into trouble so Xena could rescue me."
"Speaking of rescue," Janice says, and I sense a convenient change of subject. "Don't you think we had better get together a story for when our rescuers arrive?"
"Rescuers?" I ask. "I figured we were probably stuck here for the rest of our lives."
"Smoke signals," Tereise says. "Look outside."
I look out the tent flap and toward the burning trucks and immediately
see what she means. Where the trucks once blazed, there are now
twin columns of black smoke going nearly a hundred feet into the
air. Tereise has come to stand beside me. "In this clear
desert air, they can probably see that smoke halfway to Cairo!"
"I think we had better get our story straight before the cavalry arrives," Janice suggests.
"It's too late," I say, for there's the sound of engines approaching the oasis. "It sounds like two trucks."
Tereise listens, then shakes her head, but Janice says, "Good. Your hearing is back."
Zepp hurries to the tent as the trucks enter the campsite. "Egyptian Army patrol," he announces.
Janice says, "Antone?" Those two walk outside, with
Antone bent over and Janice talking urgently in his ear. He nods
and approaches the lead truck, passport and other documents in
hand. Six soldiers, heavily armed, have emerged to stand several
yards from the tent. Antone talks to the soldier who seems to
be in charge. The man studies Antone's papers and gestures at
us. Antone shakes his head and points at the burned out trucks.
He calls to Janice, and she cradles her injured arm and limps
toward him. She joins the conversation briefly, then limps back
to us, smiling broadly as soon as her back is to the soldiers.
"Antone told him we're all scientists and that this is our camp. A German infiltrator attacked us, killed our friend Gruner, and was knocked out when he blew up our trucks. I was injured trying to save our documents. Unfortunately, they went up with the trucks." I can tell she's having fun again.
"Your leg?" I ask.
"Seemed like a nice touch."
I know it's a long-shot, but I try. "Have you even considered telling the truth?"
"What? That you stole part of an ancient stele from a national museum, that we sailed down the Nile in a stolen houseboat, that we were tortured and entombed by grave robbers, escaped, came here, blew up some trucks, and shot an eminent Egyptologist in his own camp after knocking one of his guards unconscious with a piece of irrigation pipe?" She starts to walk away. "Sure, let me try that. . . ."
I grab her uninjured arm. "Maybe next time."
Zepp returns, and he is also smiling. "The officer bought some of it, didn't care about the rest. Seems there's a big tank battle up north, and all these guys care about is that the British left the Egyptians out of it. Now we hand them a Nazi spy and saboteur. They love it."
"Will they give us a lift?" Janice asks.
"They're heading back to Bani Suwayt, where they're garrisoned," Zepp informs us. "They'll give Zeigmann and us a ride there, but they're not willing to take Gruner. In this heat, he would be a bit ripe before we arrived. They think their commander will be willing to send someone back from their graves detail."
"Gruner's problem," Janice says firmly.
"So say a prayer for him, Mel, if you want. I'm not shedding any tears."
With that, she walks back into the tent, forgetting to limp.
I watch as two of the soldiers lead a groggy Zeigmann across the
camp. His legs are free, but they have left his hands tied.
He mumbles in German as they lift him into the first truck.
"I wonder if he'll tell the truth about Gruner and Breen," I say to no one in particular.
"No, he won't tell them anything," Zepp says, and adds, "I know the type."
After checking around the camp, and having no questions about the boxes of artifacts that fill the other tent, the soldiers help us into the back of the second truck. They take special care with Janice, who holds her arm and remembers to limp. Along each side of the truck bed are long benches. Tereise, Janice, and I sit together on one side, Janice in the middle. Zepp sits on the other side with three young Egyptian soldiers, who direct their gazes at their own feet. As the truck begins to move, one young man looks up and smiles at me, white teeth gleaming in his dark, sculptured face, a face that could have graced the statues at any Egyptian temple. I return the smile and feel Janice's elbow nudging me in the ribs.
"Stop doing that," she orders.
"Flirting? Me?" I'm astounded. "I never flirt."
"Just now? What was that?"
"He smiled at me. I smiled back."
"That fool in Macedonia," she persists. "I suppose you didn't flirt with him?"
"I don't think so." I try to remember what I did. He DID seem to like me.
"And Ahmet? The one who wanted to marry you?" She
makes the last two words sound like the plague. I hear Tereise
"Ahmet is studying archaeology at the university," I explain. "We got into the habit of talking during his visits to the museum."
"And you ended up in his tent in the desert," Janice finishes. "My God, Mel Pappas, I don't think you're even aware you do it!"
I close my mouth, and we ride in silence for a while. Whenever I look up, the young soldier is still smiling at me.
Bani Suwayt is a small city on the western bank of the Nile. White stone and mud-brick houses bake in the late afternoon sun when we reach it. Because the Egyptian soldiers have generously shared their water with us, we have survived the trip, but barely. The trucks pull to a halt in front of a large brick building. The Egyptian officer appears and helps us down. My young soldier risks a grin and a slight wave, and I can't help but return both before I turn away.
The officer is saying in English, "Please to stay here at European hotel. Our commander will wish to speak with you." To Janice, he says, "Are you needing a doctor?"
"I can wait until we return to Cairo," she assures him.
We thank him, and Zepp shakes his hand. As soon as the trucks turn the corner, Zepp says, "I'll see if we can hire a car and driver. And it would probably be best to visit the commander before he sends for us. Miss Pappas, your papers are in order, aren't they?"
"Then I think you should come with me. If we show the commander two good sets of documents, one showing diplomatic status, he may not ask to see Tereise's and Janice's." I've never seen Zepp this decisive, and I realize we've entered his official world, where he is the expert.
"My papers would probably pass," Tereise says. "And Janice's burned in our truck."
"Let's not chance it," Zepp replies.
Janice has dug my passport and other papers from her knapsack and now hands them to me. "We'll take a couple of rooms and see if baths are available," Janice says. She wrinkles her nose, "And laundry services. You two can clean up when you return."
I consider that I'm still wearing Zepp's clothing and what it
has been through since I put it on. My hair is tangled, my face
and hands, washed at the oasis, have picked up a new layer of
grime. This is no way for a lady to go calling, Aunt Helen would
say. I dismiss the thought. Another saying of which she is fond:
What can't be helped must be borne."
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 17
Having secured the services of a driver and his ancient, battered town car, Zepp and I deal swiftly with officialdom. The commander, who is pleased that one of his patrols has apparently captured a Nazi spy, is uninterested in sharing the credit with a group of foreigners. This makes him remarkably incurious about our future plans. At Zepp's casual inquiry about whether the German has confessed to espionage, the commander says that the man has said nothing except to request aspirin for his headache. Tomorrow, the commander tells us, a graves detail will recover the body of our colleague. Tomorrow, I think, the Egyptians will surely discover the stolen antiquities.
Zepp directs the driver in what seems to be fluent Arabic to take us to our hotel and to return in one hour ready for the drive to Cairo. "Do you speak the language?" Zepp asks me.
"Read a little," I reply, "but I rarely speak it. I guess I'm better with dead languages than living."
He holds the door for me, and we enter a small lobby, dim and surprisingly cool. An Egyptian desk clerk asks, in English, if he can help us.
"We are with the young ladies who registered earlier," Zepp answers.
"Ah, yes, sir. You and your wife are in Room 212, a lovely
corner room. The young ladies are in 210, which adjoins."
The clerk smiles at me, obviously assuming I'm the wife.
Zepp motions for me to proceed him up the open stairway. Even in desert fatigues, with a coating of sand, he manages to look and act the gentleman.
Room 210 is at the end of the hall, and, as we approach it, I hear the soft murmur of voices. I think that Janice and Tereise are enjoying girl talk after their baths. I look forward to being clean and relaxed. The door is locked, and Zepp unlocks and opens it with a gallant flourish. I step through to see Janice standing in the middle of the room. Holst stands behind her, his right arm around her throat, pressing so tightly she struggles for air. His gun is pressed into her side.
Breen is seated comfortably on a settee on the right side of the room. In his hand is what looks like Tereise's automatic pistol. Between Breen and the door lies Tereise. She is on her side facing the door, and a thin line of blood trickles across her forehead.
"Tereise!" Zepp's cry is strangled, and he starts toward the still, blonde woman.
"Stop!" Breen orders. "She's all right. She was uncooperative, and Holst had to subdue her with a blow."
"If she's badly hurt. . . ," Zepp growls, but he stops his forward motion.
"She can't breathe," I say to Breen. He gives no sign he understands.
"Janice can't breathe."
Breen glances at Holst, who loosens his hold. Janice takes a
gasping breath, and her color starts to change from blue to her
usual rosy shade. Her hat is gone, and her long, red-gold hair
spills over her shoulders. Her green eyes are wide and, I think,
a little frightened. We make eye contact, and I try to smile.
She gives me a slow, deliberate wink.
"Do you have transportation out of here?" Breen asks. He is looking at Zepp.
"We have a decrepit car and a driver who says it will get us to Cairo."
"Change of plans. We go to Wadi Halfa," Breen tells him.
Zepp shakes his head. "That's across the border in the Sudan. The car will never make it that far."
"Then you'll make other arrangements," Breen insists. "You and one of the women will travel with us."
"This one," Holst says, and this is the first time I
have heard him speak English.
Breen flicks another glance his way. "That would be amusing, I'm sure, but Zepp's woman will be the better choice. To assure his continued cooperation." Breen motions with his pistol for Zepp and me to sit on the low couch on the other side of the room.
"Let me see to Tereise," Zepp says quietly. Breen studies him, then nods. Zepp kneels beside Tereise and gently brushes back her fine hair. She stirs, and he lifts her easily in one motion. He places her in one corner of the couch and sits beside her. Taking a handkerchief from his pocket, he gently ministers to the small wound on her temple.
When I choose to sit on a straight back chair instead of the couch, Breen says nothing. For a moment, Holst is between me and Breen's gun, but then he steps back, dragging Janice with him.
Holst says, a little louder than before, "I want to take this woman."
"We take the blonde," Breen says patiently.
"Why not take me?" I ask. "Tereise is hurt, and you know that Dr.
Covington will be nothing but trouble."
Breen seems to consider it, then shakes his head. "No, the
other one is more important to Zepp. Who cares what happens to
"Why go to this Wadi Halfa anyway?" I ask. "The authorities have Zeigmann, but he isn't talking. No one knows anything about the theft of the antiquities. Why don't you just return to Cairo? I'm sure Mr. Zepp could help you leave the country."
"Is that right, Mr. Zepp?" Breen asks. "Could you help Holst and me leave the country? Or maybe you could help us with the authorities if we just turned ourselves in? How would that be?"
"I don't think I could help you," Zepp replies.
"That's what I thought." Breen looks bored with the conversation. He speaks to Zepp. "Is your car here?"
"No. The driver will be back in an hour."
Breen sighs. "Then we have some time. Holst, you want that one? Fine, I have these under control. Take her into the adjoining room."
Looking like a dog whose master has just tossed him a bone, Holst tightens his grip on Janice again and, almost lifting her from the floor, moves toward the closed door beside Breen's settee. Just as he passes between Breen and me, Janice puts both hands on the arm across her throat. Using this as a point of leverage, she lifts both legs, then brings them back to connect solidly with Holst's shins. I launch myself from my chair and grab for Holst's neck, trying to get the same kind of stranglehold he has on Janice, but there just isn't any neck to grab. He releases his hold on Janice to grapple with me, and she hangs on his gun hand, struggling to keep him from raising it. She bites him on the wrist and, with a howl of rage, he pulls loose and backhands her across the room. I grab the back of his shirt and pull, falling as I do so, my backward momentum pulling him down with me. As we fall, gunfire seems to fill the room.
When it becomes quiet again, acrid smoke taints the air. I am lying under Holst, who is not moving. I feel a sticky liquid on my hands and face.
Janice rolls Holst off me and is yelling, "Mel, where are
you hurt? Oh, you're bleeding. I'm sorry, Mel. . . ."
"It isn't mine," I say.
"The blood. It must be Holst's." She helps me sit and still searches for bullet holes.
Zepp kneels beside us and picks up Holst's gun. In his other hand he holds the same small gun with which he shot Gruner. He returns to Tereise, who says, "What happened? Where's Janice?"
"Don't worry," Zepp says. "Everything's all right now."
There is a pounding at the door, and then the scared face of the desk clerk looks in on our little battleground. Janice says, "Get a doctor. And the police."
"A doctor?" I ask. "For Tereise?" I look at Holst, whose face is gone, obviously the victim of his partner's poor marksmanship. I look at Breen, still sitting upright, a neat bullet hole in his forehead. Clearly, the doctor isn't for them.
"For you," Janice says gently. I realize she is pressing
hard against my side. "Dear Mel, you are shot."
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 18
"Antone, freshen my drink?" Tereise asks. Antone rises and takes her glass to a small bar he has set up on the deck of the Hatshepsut.
It is early evening, and a cooling breeze has started to blow from the delta. The faint smell of lemons wafts from the torches Zepp has lit around the deck to hold the river insects at bay. Tereise and I sit or, rather, recline in stately splendor on the wooden deck chairs of the Hat, Tereise's facing mine. Tereise still wears the short sun dress of the afternoon. Elegant and cool in tropical whites, Zepp sits on a dining chair from the salon when he's not seeing to the needs of his guests. Janice perches at the end of Tereise's lounge, and Janice, well, Janice is dressed as Janice.
I'm wearing light pleated slacks and a crisply starched blue blouse, a style I've found to my liking. There are pillows behind my head and next to my side, and Janice seems anxious to plump them as necessary-or as not. Soon I'll tell her that I've recovered from my wound, but I decide that time is not yet. I smile, and, not knowing the reason, Janice smiles back.
Tereise accepts her drink and says, "Thanks, dear, now I think you had better sit down. There are some things that need to be discussed." Antone obeys and looks expectantly at his love.
"Janice," is all she says.
Janice starts to rise, then settles again. "Antone, there are some questions I, we, need to ask, and I hope you'll be able to answer them in a satisfactory way."
"Satisfactory?" He looks to Tereise. "What is this about?"
"Antone, while Melinda was in the hospital, you know that I was questioned by the Egyptian authorities," Janice starts.
"Of course," he confirms. "I helped you. Remember how I told you of my conversation with the Foreign Minister. . . ."
"Right," Janice interrupts, "very helpful. You
know, of course, that the Egyptians were so happy to retrieve
the antiquities hidden at the Dahkla Oasis and to have the whole
smuggling ring destroyed, that they couldn't do enough for Mel
He nods. "The Foreign Minister told me as much."
"Did you know also that I was questioned by British Security?" she asks. "They were interested in whether the smuggling was connected with the Nazis."
"Yes, of course," Zepp agrees. "I also told you that I spoke with people in the British Consulate on your behalf."
"Yes, I remember what you told me," Janice says, "but, if you did hold that conversation, it really wasn't necessary. British Security had no interest in me whatsoever. They were actually surprised when I volunteered the problem with my entry documents. They suggested that I take it up with the American Embassy and the Egyptian authorities."
Antone smiles. "Then why were those two British Security officers chasing you all around Cairo and making inquiries about you?"
"I've thought about that, and I've decided that the men who broke down Mel's door were Holst and Zeigmann. We never saw anything but their backs, but the builds were right. And Zeigmann's English is good enough to pull it off."
I add, "And Janice's landlord mentioned that the Security Officers who questioned him had European accents. Would an Egyptian, as familiar as he would be with his country's occupiers, refer to their accents as European? He said they were British Security because that's what they told him. He seemed more worried that they would bring in the Egyptian police."
"The only other person who said two big British Security Officers were inquiring about me and my papers was you, Antone," Janice points out. "You said that you overheard them at the club, and they were questioning the owner and the bartender about me."
"That's right," he says, "and those men couldn't
have been the two Germans, because Holst and Zeigmann weren't
in Cairo then."
"Right," Janice agrees, "and that brings me to my next point. I'm sure that Mel and I lost the Germans after the incident in the alley behind the club. I drove around for a while to make sure before coming aboard the Hat. We sailed the Hat downriver almost immediately. So how did they practically beat us to Cashi Zun?"
Zepp sighs. "I don't know, Dr. Covington, how?"
"Someone had to tell them that we had left Cairo. Someone who realized immediately that the Hat was gone and knew what that meant."
Zepp is silent.
"Another thing," I add. "When Gruner questioned Janice, she told him she left the fragments in Cairo. How did he know she had them with her on the boat?"
"He said that?" Zepp asks. I nod. "Well, he must have been guessing because there's no way he could know."
Janice corrects him. "Unless a certain chatty spy told someone I had the fragments with me, and that someone had a short wave radio he used to contact Gruner and company."
Zepp rises. "This is ridiculous. I don't have to sit here and listen to this from people who are supposed to be my friends."
"Sit down, Antone." Tereise's voice is no different
from when she usually orders him around, but her brown eyes are
icy, showing none of their usual warmth. Zepp lowers his eyes
to the silver derringer in her hand. Where did she hide that?
I think. As small as the gun is, her costume provides little
in the way of hiding places.
Zepp sits. "Go on," Tereise says to Janice.
"I've tried to figure out a way you could have warned Breen and the others we were coming to the Dahkla Oasis, to account for their leaving the tent when we were on our way." She shakes her head sorrowfully. "I'm afraid I can't pin that one on you. It must have been plain bad luck, for us and for Gruner. Tereise said she got the drop on Gruner. That's possible, but I experienced how quick Gruner was. It could be that he saw you, Antone, and didn't see a need to shoot it out. Then Tereise came to warn us that the others had escaped. She left you to guard Gruner with his own gun. And, as soon as she was out of sight, you shot him."
"Why would I do that?" Zepp asks. "According to you, Gruner and I were on the same side."
"Oh, but you were," Janice confirms. "You were the contact who could get the artifacts out of the country so they could be sold. That's how you were so sure about how to get to the oasis and knew exactly where to park the truck so it couldn't be seen from the camp. You had been there many times."
"I shot Gruner because he came toward me."
"If he did, it was because he expected you to give him the gun, not its contents."
"I also shot him because of what he did to you, Janice," Zepp claims.
Janice studies him briefly, searching his face for some truth in this statement. "I hope that was part of why it was so easy, Antone, I really do. But I believe you mainly shot him to keep him from telling the authorities about their diplomatic contact, about you."
"That doesn't make any sense," Zepp argues. "If that was the case, why didn't I eliminate Zeigmann, too? You sent me by myself to check on him. Mel's pipe was right there. All it would have taken was another blow to the head."
"It certainly sounds like you considered it," Janice observes. "I think you decided it was an unnecessary risk. You knew, as I did, that Zeigmann wasn't the type to talk. And he never has."
"Except to ask for aspirin," I throw in.
Janice continues, "Let's go on to the hotel room at Wadi Halfa. When Breen
and Holst argued about which woman they would take with them, Breen
referred to Tereise as 'Zepp's woman.' "
"I can explain that," Zepp says eagerly. "Breen was around the club many times, and he saw me with Tereise. I think we even may have talked about her."
"I'll bet you did," Tereise comments.
Janice pats Tereise's foot, but is careful to stay out of the line of fire between Tereise and her lover.
"I'll concede that Breen could have connected Tereise with
you because of talking with you at the club," Janice says.
"However, I'm talking about the reason he gave Holst for
taking her with you. It was to insure your continued cooperation.
Continued, Antone, as if you had already helped them. And there
was one more thing about that encounter that was puzzling, my
old friend, and it was the thing that proved fatal to Breen."
"What's that?" he asks, but I see his eyes flicker to the derringer.
"When you entered the hotel room, neither Holst nor Breen searched you for a gun."
"They didn't search Miss Pappas either."
"Oh, but Zeigmann and Holst had searched both Mel and me in Harpsoptah's tomb. And they found that I carried a gun, and Mel didn't. Besides, look at Mel. She's hardly the gun-moll type." I nod at Janice, and she smiles back. "You, on the other hand, Antone, a tall, well-built gentleman, wearing your manly desert fatigues, I would think the bad guys would just assume you were armed."
"I never carry a gun," Zepp points out.
"That's exactly my point, dear Antone. Anyone who knows you well knows that you don't carry a gun. What is it you always say? It ruins the line of your suits? Breen and Holst didn't search you because they knew you and knew you weren't armed. They didn't know you had Gruner's gun. Too bad for Breen he didn't know something else that Tereise and I know."
"That you are an excellent shot."
I add, "And too bad for Holst that Breen wasn't."
"Right. And good for you."
We sit in silence, and this time it is less than companionable.
Finally, Antone Zepp speaks. "If what you believe about me is true, why haven't you turned me over to the authorities? What do you want?"
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 19
Janice leans toward Zepp and ticks off our demands. "First, we want you to admit that you were the contact that helped Gruner and his gang to smuggle stolen antiquities out of the country. Second, we want to know your part in the deaths of my father and of Tekmet. No, I haven't forgotten about Tekmet. Third, we want to know why you were involved with murderers and thieves. And, finally, we want you to accept the punishment we have decided on. Although, to be honest, you won't have much choice in the matter. Your turn to talk."
Zepp's eyes rest briefly on Tereise. Seeing no comfort there, he starts to speak. "It started before the war with my using my country's diplomatic pouch to do favors for friends. Someone might need to get some currency out of one country and into another. Maybe there was a gem to be transported, and it seemed a waste to pay the duties involved with taking it through customs."
"And maybe answering questions about where the gem came from would be inconvenient. Tell the truth," Janice warns him.
"When Tereise came to Egypt, I got myself assigned to this country. No one really cared where I went. The Nazis had already taken over my homeland, and the government in exile had more to worry about than the posting of a playboy diplomat."
"And you met Breen at the club," Tereise adds.
"Yes, and it turned out he knew about my activities before
the war. He asked if I could still perform such a service. It
started out with small, but valuable, items, but soon I was arranging
to get larger things, gold and other antiquities, out of the country.
Most eventually went to your country, Janice, to rich Americans
with a desire for Egyptian art and culture." Zepp smiles
at the memory. "I was never good at much of anything, except
having a good time. Strangely enough, I was good at this, and
it was like discovering my calling."
"You were working with Nazi scum," Janice reminds him.
"Well, that was something I soon discovered," he confesses. "At first, I really did think Breen was just a Swiss businessman, forced into dishonesty by the sudden restrictions on the antiquities trade. By the time I knew what he and Gruner and the others were really like, I was in too deep. It was just too late."
"Two," Janice says.
"Your father was already dead when I got involved, Janice. I didn't know for a long time that most of the artifacts were coming from his dig at Cashi Zun. When I learned the connection, I asked Breen about it. He said that your father died in an accidental cave-in. Gruner took advantage of it by bribing an official to report that the entire tomb was destroyed. Then he had Zeigmann blast open the entrance, and they looted the treasures from the tomb. A few things Gruner claimed to have found at Dahkla Oasis, so he could build his scientific reputation."
"Breen was there when he met you at the club. Just before the lights went out, he asked me what the connection was."
"And you told him?"
"I didn't know," Zepp says. "I don't even know whether Breen had anything to do with the lights. I think he did, Janice, and that he was trying to get to you and Miss Pappas. But he already knew who Tekmet was, and, after that meeting, Breen sent someone to follow him."
Janice considers the possible truth of these statements. "It makes sense that Gruner knew about Tekmet. Gruner sometimes visited my father's dig, and Tekmet was often hanging around. One thief might know another. And we've already figured out that Mel's boss was feeding Gruner information."
I sigh and think of our decision not to turn Dr. Krykos into the authorities. We can only hope he's learned his lesson. Lie down with dogs, and you get up with fleas.
"That's the easiest," Zepp says. "I did it for money. I've spent all mine, you know. And with the Nazis plundering my homeland, there won't be any more. My poor salary couldn't begin to maintain the life I live, and even that hasn't been paid since the government went into exile. Breen and Gruner paid me well." We look around the Hatshepsut, at the wines and liquors on the nearby table, Zepp's expensive clothes. . . . I wonder if Janice weighs these against her father's and Tekmet's lives.
Tereise's voice replaces Janice's. "Now for number four. We've talked crime, so now let's look at punishment."
Zepp is sure. "You'll turn me over to the British or Egyptian authorities, of course."
"Wrong," Tereise says. "There's such a thing as diplomatic immunity. Even if that doesn't completely protect you, there's the matter of influence. You chose to shorten your last name, but everyone in power knows of your famous family. No, I don't think punishment through the official route would be either swift or sure."
"Then what, ladies?" Zepp says, some confidence slipping from his voice. "Am I to believe that you're simply going to shoot me and throw me overboard?"
Tereise smiles, and I notice how small and pointed her teeth are. "Not shoot you, dear, unless I have to. One idea we had was to throw you overboard, but not until we sailed upstream and found a particularly large and hungry Nile croc." Zepp's eyes pass from Tereise to Janice and finally settle on me. I smile pleasantly.
Tereise continues, "Unfortunately, that idea was voted down. 2 to 1."
Zepp glares at Janice. "I can guess who voted for it."
"No," Tereise says, "surprisingly, Janice and Mel
were the ones who voted against it. Although I think Mel's sympathies
mainly lay with the poor crocodile. We came up with several variations,
but we finally decided to let Janice choose. She, after all,
has borne most of the injuries in this case."
"What did you decide?" Zepp asks Janice. "What do I have to do?"
"Leave," she answers.
"I don't understand."
"All you have to do is leave. You can take a ship, an airplane, you can walk across the desert, or swim across the Mediterranean; none of us care."
"I can't believe you're just letting me go," Zepp says
in wonder. "Janice.. . ."
"Your punishment is exile, Antone," Janice cuts him
off. "You may take with you your passport and the clothes
on your back. If you have any money in your elegant pockets,
you can take that. Before you go, you sign over the Hatshepsut
to Tereise and give her the number of you bank account in Switzerland.
Don't even try to say you don't have one. Tereise and her friends
will have uses for the money, either now or after the war. Do
Zepp nods his head, still counting his good fortune.
"As a condition of your exile, you won't ever return to anyplace you've been before this day," Janice adds.
"What? I don't understand."
Tereise explains, "Just what Janice says. Once you leave here, you can go anyplace you want, as long as you've never been there before. That cuts out London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, any other place you've already lived or visited, and, of course, your own homeland. If any of us, Janice, Mel, or I, learn that you have violated your exile, you'll be killed."
"Don't be ridiculous," Zepp tries.
"Look at me, Antone," Tereise commands. He reluctantly meets her eyes. "I will kill you myself or have others do it. Many of my acquaintances are spending the war learning about the infliction of pain and death. They are learning from experts."
Janice says, "I said before that you wouldn't have much choice in the matter of your punishment, but I guess that isn't true. You do have a decision to make. Death now, this instant, or life on our terms. Which is it?"
"I'll leave," he says."
Janice smiles. "Good choice, Antone. I always thought you were stupid, but I may have to revise my opinion."
"Five," I say quietly.
Janice looks surprised. "Five? Mel, we never talked about any five."
"I know. I added it myself." I turn to Zepp. "The
last piece of the stele. I want it now."
The Gabrielle Stele, Part 20
Janice and I sit on folding chairs in a military airport hanger near Cairo. With the final defeat of Rommel's tanks, some travel restrictions have been relaxed, and the British Consulate has agreed to help us leave the country."People are always cooperative when it means getting rid of me," Janice has said of this offer.
Zepp is long gone, and, if he's true to his word, we'll never hear of him again.
Tereise has sold the Hatshepsut to a British government official. Janice's comment on this: "I wonder how long the Egyptians will let him keep it when the war is over." Never one for politics, I have no opinion. Tereise has quietly left the country, to look, she says, at a place called Palestine.
Janice is going home with me to South Carolina while I finish recuperating from my wound. I feel fine already, but I haven't told her yet. We'll have to take a round-about route to get there, avoiding war zones and U-boats as best we can, but I know we'll arrive eventually, and the journey will be an adventure. Looking at my small friend in her khaki and leather, with her old bush hat pulled low over her face, I wonder what Aunt Helen will make of her. Then I grin. Even Aunt Helen will be no match for Janice.
Janice glances at me. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing. Just thinking about seeing my family again."
"I don't have a family anymore," she says, "but I think I can understand how you feel."
"Our only families aren't the ones we're born into. Isn't Tereise your family? Aren't I?"
She doesn't answer, but I think I see a nod. "I have a present for you," I say.
"Look in your knapsack. I slipped it in just before we left my hotel."
With a gesture, I urge her on.
>From the knapsack, she pulls a large sheet of paper, rolled up like a scroll. Slowly, she unrolls it.
"You know that we all agreed to turn the four fragments of the Gabrielle stele over to the Egyptian government. It was the right thing to do. But before we did, I copied down the hieroglyphics from Zepp's piece."
"GABRIELLE stele?" she questions.
"Yes. You'll understand. Go on and read it."
---------------------THE SUN BEATS DOWN upon the travelers as they cross the desert sands. This is a caravan of comfort, carrying Ma'Kare,' wife of the great Osorkon, prince of Heracleopolis, high priest of the god Ptah. Far from any city or oasis, bandits come across the desert, white-robed, riding pure white horses, hearts as hot as the sun. Guards pledged to defend the princess die bravely, cut by swords, as grain before the scythe. Others try to flee the bandits' harshness, but they are caught, and they, too die. The bandits take the goods and gold and princess.
Upon the bloody sand, the bandits take their ease and argue about the division of the spoils. The princess can be heard crying above the wailing of the rising desert wind.
Out of the halo of the sunset come defenders of the crying princess. A warrior woman and her companion. With stealth and strength they attack and leave no bandit standing. Just then comes the Khamsin, storm that heralds summer, but chokes both man and beast.
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 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 find her friend. Like the Khamsin, rides the woman, sweeping through the desert, hot and dusty, heading west. In this endless desolation, she despairs. How can she find her friend?
But she does and brings her water, holds her gently, saves her life. Returning to fair Heracleopolis, they find Osorkon celebrating his new son and mourning for his wife. Osorkon makes a declaration. Forever will this woman warrior be the object of adoration, friend forever to Prince Osorkon. The son he names Shoshenk for his own father. The woman will be called Omm Shoshenk, second mother to the boy.
The sun-haired companion tells this story, and I, Harpsoptah,
write it down.
-------------------- End of Story----------------
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