Oliver had parked his jeep about a mile away from the dig. Unfortunately, it was in the middle of the desert, which meant there wasn’t any place to hide the jeep except behind the many sand dunes in the area. Nisa, Chris, Bea, Susie, and Oliver stood on top of one dune and it was high enough that they were able to stare down at the site far below and away from them.
Callahan had certainly used his money. About half a dozen helicopters had landed. None of them took off; probably because the sand storm that had blown through was still blowing around in the desert on the way to Cairo, which would make it impossible to fly there.
Workers carried artifacts from the dig. Oliver knelt with binoculars, gazing at the place in more detail.
“Are there more men along the perimeter?” Nisa asked. From here, it looked like it, but it was hard to tell. More tents had been set up—far bigger ones with more men surrounding them. She prayed they were workers, but had a feeling they were security.
Oliver cursed. “Security’s tight—there’s a patrol on every major side of the camp and at each one of the bigger tents. Those are probably where he’s storing the artifacts.”
“How are we going to sneak in, then?” Chris glanced at Oliver and every other eye in the group did the same.
Oliver pursed his lips, gesturing to the pyramid. “There’s another large dune coming up at the back of the pyramid. I can’t see it from here, but security might be a bit more relaxed there.”
Nisa lifted her eyebrows. “What exactly are you suggesting?”
Oliver grinned. “I’m suggesting we come in behind the pyramid, and sneak in posed as workers.”
Nisa gaped at him.
“That will never work!” Susie shook her head.
Chris shot her a glare. “It’s our only choice, Susie.”
She pressed her lips into a firm line, but didn’t say anything more. The sun bared down on them furiously on their long trek. They thought it would be better to hike a wider arc around the pyramid, as high on the dunes as they could, to avoid anyone seeing them by chance. It created a longer than necessary journey to the back of the pyramid, but in the end, it allowed them to come to the back of it without being spotted. By that time, Nisa’s whole body was covered in a thick layer of sweat and her mouth felt dry. She had already taken several drinks of her canteen and wanted to conserve, so she forced herself not to.
They stumbled down the side of the dune into the valley at the back of the pyramid. All of the workers came in and out of the front, which meant the back of the pyramid was mostly unoccupied.
Oliver motioned for them to stay there, so they patiently waited at the corner of the pyramid. He sprinted down the side, paused, and then whistled.
Nisa wondered if he was insane, but she had trusted him with her life more times than she could count. Why was it hard for her to trust him with his own?
From what she could see, a few of the workers placed down the artifacts they had been carrying and came to the side, where Oliver waited for them. He took them by surprise, knocked them out, and then motioned for Nisa and the others to join him.
Oliver took off one man’s head-covering and stripped off his outer clothes. “Strip them and wear their clothes. We’re going to try to avoid being seen, but if we are, this will help.”
Nisa quickly stripped one of the smaller women and slipped the robes on over her clothes. That only made the heat worse, but she forced herself to bare it. She used the woman’s head and face covering to wrap around her head and face, leaving only her eyes exposed—that way, she wouldn’t be so easily recognized. Bea and Susie did the same.
Oliver motioned for them to follow closely behind him, so Nisa, Bea, Susie, and Chris stayed right on his heels. They walked around the corner and back toward the artifacts on the ground. Nisa picked up one at random and as they followed the line of workers to the proper tents for the artifacts to be cleaned and archived, she couldn’t help but admire the jar—it was definitely a jar that Ancient Egyptians would have placed the body’s organs into at burial. The previous mummy they had found hadn’t had any… Had they found another one? Curiosity gripped her, but she forced herself to stay calm, walk slow, and act normal.
After they set the artifacts in the table, one of the head workers ordered them to go back inside the pyramid and help the diggers down there. Outside the tent, Oliver nodded his head to the larger tents, which was their indication that it was time to split off.
Nisa gripped Susie’s hand and headed straight ahead and slightly to the left, toward the largest tent in the center. That one had to be Callahan’s. Oliver headed the same direction and she wondered how he planned to steal information while Callahan was in the same tent.
She and Susie walked around to the back of it, out of sight from the security guards. At least through the cloth, they would still be able to hear whatever was going on inside.
“… sure you kept her in the dark?” a deep voice asked. Nisa would know that one anywhere; Callahan.
“Yes. We emailed several times and I told her exactly what you wanted her to know—that the language had been hidden from society, previously unknown. I told her I resumed my father’s work and, just like you said, she told me what she’d found. According to the maps, this place is in the center. The final artifacts should be here.” Nisa didn’t recognize the second man’s voice, but he had a definite British accent. No part of her wanted to believe their words, wanted to face what they were saying…
Callahan grunted. “They better be. We’re so close to finding all of them and then… Then I’ll finally be known as the man who discovered something new the world has never seen—the world as we know it, history as we know it will be changed forever. So long as the SCA ensures that insolent girl will stay out of things. She nearly cost me this dig! She came too close, Edward! Too close!”
“I know, but she’s gone, Callahan, and she won’t be coming back.”
Callahan harrumphed. “She discovered this stone. It’s practically the Rosetta Stone for us—it’s everything! She had it for weeks, Edward! More than enough time for her to translate it. I taught that girl myself.”
“Trust me, Callahan. There’s no way she knows the real meaning behind it, even if she did translate it. Whatever stories she discovered, whatever she thinks she found here… She doesn’t know the truth and she never will.”
Callahan growled. “She better not. I want her gone. If she doesn’t leave Egypt, then we’ll find a way to get rid of her. For good. Just like I did her father.”
Shock rippled through Nisa and it felt as if she had been shot. Not only had Edward Malford lied to her—used her and fed her lies about the language and his father, and everything about what this place was—but Callahan had done more than destroy her father’s career. She needed to know more, needed the truth. Desperation and pain surged through her and Nisa squeezed her eyes shut, trying to stay calm.
Susie’s muscles had gone completely rigid and she gripped Nisa’s arm furiously. The two met eyes and Nisa’s widened. She swallowed back a lump in her throat.
She had believed her father had died of a heart attack. That was what the coroner had told her, what the autopsy had supposedly showed. What had Callahan done? Why? What was this place? What connection did it have to the language or the story? Worse, what did this all have to do with the cursed man, the statue of a strange creature and liquids all unknown to earth?
What was really going on?
Nisa felt lost; more lost than she ever had before. How would they find out the truth and worse; how would she ever bring Callahan to justice or prove that he’d had a hand in her father’s death? A man like him was obviously above the law, above everything.
Her mind and thoughts reeled and Nisa felt as if she was trapped or drowning, with no way to breach the surface.
Susie gestured to the back of the camp. Feeling as if she would pass out, Nisa sucked in a deep breath and nodded. If it wasn’t for Susie, she likely would have already passed out, but despite what had happened between them, Susie was still her friend.
Susie squeezed her hand as if reassuring her that somehow, they would learn the truth of all this. Somehow, they would get through it.