Rumors connecting Osiris with both the disaster in Lampedusa and the droughts across North Africa were flying. Upon hearing that Shakir and Hassan were dead, Piola felt a spurt of hope that his connection to Osiris might have died with them. But, deep inside, he knew better. So he made plans to escape.
He opened his wall safe and pulled out a 9mm pistol and two stacks of bills, twenty thousand euros’ worth. From his secretary’s desk, he took a set of car keys that went to the nondescript Fiat she drove. No one would be looking for him in that.
He left the office and moved down the hall, trying to remain calm. He was halfway to the stairs when members of the Carabinieri appeared. He turned around and walked in the other direction.
“Signore Piola,” one of the policemen shouted. “Stop where you are. We have a warrant for your arrest.”
Piola turned and opened fire.
The shots scattered the police and sent the civilians in the hall running for cover. Amid the chaos, Piola ran with abandon. He burst in
to an anteroom and shoved several people out of the way as he ran for the double doors. He clubbed a man in the face who wouldn’t move fast enough and fired a shot back at the police when they entered behind him.
He reached the far door, pushed it open and charged into the main conference room. “Move,” he shouted at everyone. “Get out of my way!”
As he rushed forward with the gun held high, the crowd parted like the Red Sea, all except a man with close-cropped red hair and a Vandyke beard. This man moved toward him from the side, cross-checking him like a hockey player at center ice.
Piola hit the wall, bounced off and tumbled to the ground. The euros went everywhere like confetti, but he held on to the gun. He came up swinging it, ready to fire. He never got the chance, as it was knocked from his hand by the same man who’d tackled him.
Piola recognized the face of his attacker: James Sandecker, the American Vice President. An instant later, Sandecker’s right fist connected with his jaw, sending him back to the floor.
The blow stunned him long enough for the police to rush in and subdue him. He was carried out in cuffs, complaining loudly. The last thing he saw, before he left the room, was James Sandecker massaging his knuckles and smiling.
With Piola gone, Sandecker took a seat at the end of the conference table. Shock seemed to grip everyone else in the room, but a satisfied grin had settled firmly on Sandecker’s face.
The Vice President’s aide, Terry Carruthers, brought a bucket of ice for his hand.
“Unless you’ve got champagne in there, don’t bother.”
Carruthers put the bucket down. “Afraid not, sir.”
Sandecker shrugged. “Too bad.” He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a fresh cigar and lit it with the old Zippo lighter.
Carruthers reacted predictably. “Smoking’s not allowed in here, sir.”
Sandecker leaned back in his chair. “So I’ve heard,” he said, blowing a near-perfect smoke ring across the table. “So I’ve heard.”
A few days after the pumps had been reversed in Egypt, the water from the Nile refilled the aquifer and had fractured the rock layers underneath Libya and released billions of gallons of trapped water. It came to the surface in hundreds of places, refilling lakes, wells and city water reserves.
Out at the ruined pumping station in Libya, the water burst through the damaged piping like an oil gusher, falling like rain across the parched ground. It hadn’t yet been capped when Reza—who was walking with a cane—arrived to see it. Instead of hiding from the gusher, he reveled in it, sending videos of it to Paul and Gamay Trout, along with his deepest thanks.
Libya stabilized rapidly once the water began flowing again and the standing government retained control, arresting many who had been part of the attempted coup. The governments in Tunisia and Algeria were also rapidly restructured. Once the antidote to the Black Mist was made available, the ministers who’d been coerced into switching their votes had returned to their original positions of supporting their governments.
Egypt was in another upheaval, with crowds rioting in the streets while new leaders stirred the turmoil. Edo was reinstated in the military and given a promotion to major general.
In Italy, the last of the Lampedusa survivors were released from the hospitals where they had been treated. Most of them went home to resume their lives, while the group that had been attempting to immigrate stayed in Sicily and were granted Italian citizenship.
One of the survivors of the Black Mist took advantage of thanking Kurt Austin personally, wrapping her arms around his broad shoulders and kissing him, while standing on the stern deck of a small fishing boat off the picturesque Greek island of Mykonos.
“I can’t think of a nicer reward,” said Kurt.
He was wearing a pair of black swim trunks, while Renata looked pretty as a picture in a red bikini. Both were well tanned and as relaxed as they could remember being, while sharing a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve champagne.
Renata pulled back and eased into a hammock that Austin had strung up on the deck. “I still wonder how the Egyptians discovered the secret of the Mist all those centuries ago,” she said between sips of the champagne.
“Centuries of observation,” Kurt replied. “According to the text Emile D’Campion translated, the priests of Osiris noticed that young crocodiles that ate the bullfrogs went into a hypnotic state. Through experimentation, they discovered the frogs could put people into the same deathlike trance. Before long, they were raising the frogs in deep secrecy inside the temples and using the extracts in their ceremonies.”