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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:29

“In his final letter,” Gamay explained. “Villeneuve wrote of his fear of what Napoleon would do if he actually had the Black Mist in his possession. ‘Perhaps it’s best that the truth never come out. That it remain with you in your small boat paddling to the shelter of the Guillaume Tell.’ When Paul and I looked at the paintings Villeneuve had allegedly done, one of them depicted a small boat, crewed by several men who were rowing with gusto. We thought the translation might be hidden inside.”

“But the men who attacked us got the painting from us before we could check it thoroughly,” Paul added.

“I didn’t feel anything hidden in there before they grabbed it,” Gamay said. “It was just a silly idea.”

Kurt heard her, but he wasn’t really listening. He was lost in thought. “What did the letter say, again?”

Gamay repeated the quote. “‘Perhaps it’s best that the truth never come out. That it remain with you in your small boat paddling to the shelter of the Guillaume Tell.’”

“‘Remain with you,’” Kurt repeated, “‘in your small boat.’” Suddenly, it made sense. “Gamay you’re a genius,” he said.

“A genius? About what?” she asked.

“Everything,” Kurt said. “Get yourselves to Malta. Meet up with the D’Campions. Ask Etienne to show you the painting his ancestor did depicting the Battle of Aboukir Bay. You’ll know why when you see it.”

The Trouts met with the D’Campions at their estate. Nicole led them into the main parlor.

“Excuse the mess,” she said. “We’re still cleaning up.”

Etienne met them beside the now-darkened hearth. “I welcome you,” he said. “Any friends of Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala are friends of ours. And while I understand that he sent you, I’m not sure I understand why.”

“He wanted you to show us a painting,” Gamay said. “One, apparently, he admired very much.”

“The one Emile painted,” Etienne replied.

“Aboukir Bay,” Gamay said.

Etienne stepped aside. Behind him, above the hearth, was the painting.

“Do you mind if we take it down?” Paul asked.

A look of concern came over Etienne’s face. “Why would you do that?”

“Because we have reason to believe Emile hid the translation behind it with the intention of sending it to Villeneuve. It was the one thing no French overlord would take. And that made it safe to possess.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Etienne said.

“Only one way to find out.”

With deliberate care, the painting was taken down. A razor blade was used to separate the liner behind the canvas. Gamay slid her hand carefully up and under the backing and with the tips of her fingers touched a folded piece of paper. She pulled out stiff yellowed parchment. It was placed on the glass of the dining room table and opened with extraordinary care.

The hieroglyphics were obvious. The translation was written beneath them. Black Mist. Angel’s Breath. Mist of Life. A date was scribbled in the corner.

“Frimaire XIV,” Etienne said. “December 1805.” He looked up. “All this time . . .” he said. “It was right here all this time.”

“It may have taken a few hundred years,” Gamay said, “but Emile’s contribution to the knowledge of antiquity will be recorded now. The date of the painting and the correspondence with Villeneuve will prove he was the first to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics. And this particular find will go down in history as unique. He will be remembered as the most important of Napoleon’s savants.”

For twenty-four hours, Alberto Piola could hardly tear himself away from the television. Images of police and regular military units swarming over the Osiris hydroelectric plant in Cairo were constant. Video from a news chopper outside of the plant showed a whirlpool of water swirling where it was being sucked into the outflow pipe and funneled back into the aquifers. Hundreds of soldiers could be seen on the ground. Jeeps, tanks and trucks filled the parking lot.