Page 27

The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:05

“Couldn’t ask for better compensation,” Kurt replied. “Where do we start?”

“Malta,” she said. “Hagen made three trips there in the past month.”

She opened a drawer, removed a file folder and pulled from it a set of surveillance photos that she handed to Kurt. “He met with this man several times. Even had a heated argument with him last week.”

Kurt studied the photo. It showed a scholarly man in a tweed jacket with elbow patches. He was sitting at an outdoor café, speaking with three men. It looked more like he was being surrounded.

“The one in the middle is Hagen,” she said. “The other two, we’re not sure. His entourage, I suppose.”

“Who’s the professorial-looking fellow?”

“The curator of the Maltese Oceanic Museum.”

“I don’t get it,” Kurt said. “Museum curators don’t normally rub elbows with terrorists and those trafficking in nerve gas and biological weapons. Are you sure there’s a connection?”

“We’re not sure of anything,” she admitted. “Except that Hagen has been meeting with this man on a regular basis, intent on buying some artifacts the museum is about to put up for auction after a gala party two days from now.”

Kurt didn’t like it. “Everybody has their hobbies,” he said. “Even terrorists.”

She sat down. “Collecting ancient artifacts isn’t one of Hagen’s. He’s never shown an interest. Not until now.”

“Okay,” Kurt said. “But surely he wouldn’t be stupid enough to go back there.”

“That’s what I thought,” she replied. “Except that someone just put two hundred thousand euros into Hagen’s account on Malta. An account he opened the day after he met with the museum curator. Interpol confirmed the transaction. It was initiated several hours after the incident on Lampedusa.”

Kurt saw the logic. There was no denying it. This Dr. Hagen was alive, he’d escaped Lampedusa and moved money into the Maltese account after the fact. Whatever the reason, it sounded like the fugitive doctor was headed back there for another meeting with the head curator of the Maltese Oceanic Museum.

“So the question is,” she asked, closing the file and crossing one leg over the other, “do you care to take a look?”

“I’ll do more than look,” Kurt promised.

An expression of appreciation came his way. “I’ll meet you there once I’m certain all the patients are properly hospitalized and being cared for. I have to ask you not to take action until I arrive.”

Kurt stood, grinning. “Observe and report back,” he said. “I can handle that.”

They both knew he was lying. If he saw Hagen, Kurt would grab him, even if he had to take him right off the street.

White Desert of Egypt, seven miles west of the Pyramids

The quiet of the White Desert was broken by the staccato beat of helicopter blades as a French-made SA-342 Gazelle raced above the scalloped sand dunes at five hundred feet.

The copter, clad in a desert-camouflage pattern, was an older model. It had once belonged to the Egyptian military before its transfer, at a marginal price, to the current owner. As it crossed the largest of the towering dunes, it turned sideways and slowed.

The odd style of flight allowed Tariq Shakir to watch a group of vehicles racing across the blistering sands down below. There were seven in all, but only five were moving. Two of the vehicles had collided badly and were now stopped dead in a trough between the last two dunes.

Shakir raised his expensive mirrored sunglasses and held up a pair of binoculars. “Two of them are out,” he said to another passenger. “Have the men go pick them up. The rest are still going strong.”

The remaining vehicles climbed the last immense dune, carving lines in the smooth surface, tires spitting sand, four-wheel-drive systems straining to the limit. One of them seemed to have left the pack behind, perhaps having found firmer sand and a better path to the summit.

“Number four,” a voice informed Shakir via his headphones. “I told you he would not be outdone.”

Shakir glanced into the aft section of the helicopter’s cabin. A short man in black fatigues sat there, grinning from ear to ear.

“Don’t be so sure, Hassan,” Shakir admonished. “The race is not always to the swift.”