They made their way back out of the cave. As they climbed a slippery, sloping bend in one of the dark passageways, Marc stumbled and lost his footing.
Anton waited for him; and though the other man’s face was obscured by shadows, Marc could sense his impatience.
As he struggled to his feet, Marc had a flash of memory: of being a larva clawing his way through rancid, bloody matter. Then his emergence into the nearly lightless air of the birthing cave.
Marc shuddered. These were not his memories; they were Kelphi memories. When Lord Satu had accessed his mind, some of the creature’s own thoughts and impressions had apparently remained behind. The images of the Kelphi birthing process were a sort of psychological filth that now clung to his grey matter.
He pushed the images away. They will fade with time, he told himself.
“I’m coming,” he called out to Anton. Marc forced himself to his feet. “Let’s get out of here.”
A new life would be possible because of the object that he now carried in one of the interior pockets of his jacket: the Garnet of Hatshepsut.
Shortly after arriving in Cairo, Jack had procured an old map from one John Millhouse, a British professor of Egyptian antiquities. The map indicated the approximate location of the garnet.
“The garnet is worth a fortune,” John Millhouse had told him, as Jack handed over the money for the map. “Finding it will not be easy, but not many people know about it. If you find it first, you’ll be a rich man. You’ll be set for the rest of your life, in fact.”
And two days ago, Jack had finally found the garnet.
In order to find the garnet, Jack had endured hours in the sun, the dangers of the desert, and the constant grumblings of his Egyptian assistant, Tahmid.
But now, finally, the garnet was his.
Hatshepsut, Jack had learned, had been one of ancient Egypt’s lady pharaohs. She had lived about 3,500 years ago.
Jack had only the barest knowledge of ancient Egyptology. But once he was back in the United States, he promised himself, he would learn more about Hatshepsut. He owed that long-dead lady a lot. Or he would owe her a lot—once he sold the gem.
The garnet was a large red stone, with Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into its bottom, flat face.
It was a beautiful gemstone. The most beautiful gemstone that Jack had ever seen.
But Jack had no intention of holding on to it. He had already tied up most of his affairs in Cairo. Tomorrow—or the next day, at the latest—he would leave the Egyptian capital and catch a train to the port city of Alexandria. From there he would catch a steamer to New York.
In New York he would find a buyer for the garnet. There were dealers of rare gemstones in New York. Many of them would want to purchase a stone like the Garnet of Hatshepsut.
Jack had already determined that while he would not allow himself to become greedy, he would not be taken advantage of, either. A bidding war among the New York dealers of rare gems would not be out of the question.
After he had sold the garnet, he would take his bank draft payment to the nearest branch of a major bank.
He would put the bulk of his earnings into a new savings account, of course. He would permit himself a single indulgence, however.
He would visit one of the many car dealerships in New York. There he would purchase a brand-new Ford automobile—perhaps a DeLuxe Roadster or Fordor.
Or, for that matter, why not a brand-new DeSoto Airstream? Before leaving for Egypt six months ago, Jack had seen one of the 1936 DeSoto Airstreams in Indianapolis. The newest DeSotos were really something.
Whichever car he decided upon, he would pay cash. He imagined the look on the salesman’s face, the smell of his new car’s leather upholstery.
Over the past two days he had replayed the scene many times.
Then he would drive to Franklin, Indiana, where he would begin the rest of his life.
But before he did all that, he had to get the Garnet of Hatshepsut safely out of Egypt. And he was now concerned that a group of men might be specifically intent on taking it from him.
As promised, Mike called Big Jim Royer right away. Although it was early evening in Washington, Big Jim was still in his office.
Mike hadn’t lost sight of the fact that among everyone gathered here tonight, he was the one with the least personal stakes. Barry was his ex-wife’s husband, after all. He therefore put his call with Big Jim on his iPhone’s speaker, so everyone else could listen in.
Mike quickly ran through the situation. Big Jim didn’t sound particularly surprised. “Those North Koreans are wily bastards,” the congressman said.
Big Jim added that he was on several committees and subcommittees that were involved in the touch-and-go of U.S.-North Korean relations. He had also conferred with the president about the matter. Big Jim Royer was one of the few Democratic congresspersons who got along well with the current occupant of the White House, a Republican who had tetchy relations even with many members of his own party.
“So what we’re hoping, Uncle Jim,” Mike said, “is that you might be able to bring this situation to a head. Call the North Koreans out on the carpet, so to speak.”
“Uh-huh,” Big Jim said noncommittally. “Let me see what I can do about that. “How about we talk again tomorrow—same time. I’ll need some time to shake the bushes.”
“Of course. Thanks, Uncle Jim. Goodnight.”
Mike terminated the call. Tessa, Joyce—and even Ryan—were staring anxiously at him. Spencer McGill was staring at Tessa. Mike could tell that Spencer was not particularly distressed by Barry’s disappearance, except for how it impacted his relationship with Tessa.
“That’s all we can do for now,” he told everyone in the room with him. “Let’s give my uncle a chance to do his thing.”
“I’ve got some news,” Jim said, when Mike called him the next day. This conversation, too, took place on speakerphone, with all of Barry’s family assembled. “I have some good news and some bad news.”
“Give us the good news first, please,” Tessa said.
“Uh-huh. Well, the good news it that your government takes this matter very seriously. North Korea simply can’t be allowed to take our citizens at will.”
“They’re going to do something about it, then?” Tessa prodded. “Something decisive, that will get my father back immediately?”
“Well, you see, there, miss, that’s where the bad news comes in.”
“I was afraid of that,” Tessa said.
“Things are a little sensitive right now,” Big Jim went on, “where North Korea is concerned. You’re aware that the current administration is attempting a breakthrough in relations.”
“So what?” Tessa interjected. “They’ve taken my father hostage.”
“I realize that,” Big Jim said. “And your government wants to see your father returned, posthaste. But there are also those who will be wary of making any overt gesture that might offend Pyongyang—”
“‘Offend’ the North Koreans?” Tessa asked, flabbergasted.
“What I’m saying,” Big Jim said, “is that the efforts to free Barry will take place through back channels.”
“Back channels?” Tessa said. “I was kind of hoping they would send in the U.S. Marines. Or maybe lob a missile on the private residence of that fat little leader of theirs—Kim Jong what-his-name.”
Big Jim let out a patient but exasperated sigh on the other of the call.
“I’m sorry, young lady, but after twenty-eight years in Congress, I know how the government works. And that simply isn’t going to happen. Furthermore, everything involving North Korea is complicated by the fact that we have no ordinary diplomatic relations with them, no embassy personnel in Pyongyang.”
“So my dad is just screwed, is what you’re saying?”
“No. Not at all. We do have some friends in the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang. The Swedes are the default intermediary when a Western government that doesn’t have a presence in Pyongyang wants to communicate with the North Koreans. The American embassy in Sweden is going to ask the Swedish government to prod the North Koreans. The Swedish embassy in Pyongyang will let them know that we know what is going on. They’ll do what they can to convince the North Koreans that it would be in their best interest to release your father, immediately.”
“‘Do what they can?’” Tessa said. “‘Convince the North Koreans?’ I don’t get it, Congressman Royer. North Korea is some little pissant country, and they’ve taken my father—an American citizen—against his will. Why can’t our government do something more forceful?”
Mike gave Tessa a cautionary look. Big Jim Royer was a man who regularly conferred with the President of the United States in the Oval Office. He wasn’t used to being interrogated by a twenty-two year-old.
On the other hand, though, Tessa was more strong-willed than the average twenty-two year-old. And she did have a point.
“It’s more complicated than that,” Big Jim explained patiently. “North Korea is indeed a third-rate country in some ways. In most ways, in fact. But North Korea is also a nuclear-armed country, and the president is trying to improve our relations with them. As much as everyone wants to see your father come home, there is a bigger picture here, too.”
“I see,” Tessa said. Her tone made very clear that she didn’t see.
“Let the system do it’s thing,” Big Jim said. “I assure you, everything that can practically be done to free Barry Lawson will be done. And I’ll be personally keeping my eye on this situation.”
“That’s all we can ask for, Uncle Jim,” Mike said, bringing the conversation to a close before Tessa could say much of anything else.