Page 15

The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:02

Despite shaking him, there was no response.

“I can’t feel a pulse,” Joe said. “Not that I’d expect to through these gloves.”

Joe went to pull one of the gloves off. “Don’t,” Kurt said.

As Joe relented, Kurt brought out a knife and held the flat edge of the blade against the bottom of Cody’s nose. “Nothing,” he said. “No condensation. They’re not breathing.”

He pulled the knife away and lowered Cody’s head gently back to the floor. “What the hell was that freighter carrying?” he muttered aloud. “I don’t know of anything that could do this to a whole island. Except maybe military-grade nerve agents.”

Kurt looked at the fallen team members once again. “I have no idea. But I’m telling you right now we’re going to find the people who did this. And when we do, they’re going to wish they’d never heard of this place.”

Joe recognized the tone in his friend’s voice. It was the opposite of the easygoing, everything-will-be-all-right manner Kurt usually projected. In a way, it was the dark side of his personality. In another way, it was a typical American response: Don’t tread on me. And woe unto those who do.

Sometimes Joe would try to talk Kurt down when he got like this, but at the moment he felt exactly the same way.

“Call the Sea Dragon,” Kurt said. “Tell them what we found. I’m going to look for a set of keys. We need to get to that hospital and I’ve had enough of walking.”

The Jeep’s V-8 engine roared to life, bringing the shock of sound to an island bathed in silence.

Kurt revved the engine a few times as if the din could break the spell that seemed to have been cast on those around them.

He put the Jeep in gear and drove while Joe consulted a map. It was a short journey but one made more difficult by dozens of wrecked cars with steaming radiators and scooters lying on their sides not far from their spilled riders. Every intersection had a pileup, every sidewalk pedestrians lying where they’d fallen.

“It’s like the end of the world,” Joe said grimly. “A city of the dead.”

Near the hospital entrance another multicar wreck blocked the way, this one including a truck tipped over with half its contents spilled out. To avoid it, Kurt drove up over the curb and across a rock garden until they arrived at the main doors.

“Modern-looking hospital,” Joe said of the six-story structure.

“As I recall, it was updated and expanded to care for the refugees making their way here on boats from Libya and Tunisia.”

Kurt shut off the engine and climbed out of the Jeep, pausing as something caught his eye.

“What’s wrong?” Joe asked.

Kurt stared back in the direction they’d just come. “Thought I saw something moving.”

“What kind of something?”

“Not sure. Over by the wrecked cars.”

Kurt stared for a long moment but nothing appeared.

“Should we check it out?”

Kurt shook his head. “It’s nothing. Just the light on my face shield.”

“It could be a zombie,” Joe said.

“If that’s the case, you’ll be safe,” Kurt said. “I hear they only eat brains.”

“Very funny,” Joe said. “Honestly, if someone did survive and saw us dressed up like this, he might think twice before coming up and introducing himself.”

“More likely, my mind is playing tricks on me,” Kurt replied. “Come on. Let’s get inside.”