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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:07

Kensington was blunt. “We expect to be sued as soon as the items are revealed. We’d like to have at least one night to enjoy them without fighting the lawyers of the world.”

It was a good story, maybe even half true, Kurt thought, but Kensington was hiding something. “Mr. Kensington,” he began.

“I didn’t want to have to do this,” Kurt continued, “but you leave me no choice.”

He pulled out the photographs that Dr. Ambrosini had given him and slid one across the desk.

“What am I supposed to be looking at here?”

“That’s you,” Kurt said. “Not your best shot, I agree, but clearly it’s you. You’re even wearing the same tweed jacket.”

“The other men in this picture,” Kurt began, “let’s just say they’re not the kind of men you want to be seen in pictures with. And I’m doubting they’re the kind that will end up at your party either.”

Kensington stared at the photo.

“Do you recognize any of them?” Joe asked.

“This one,” Kensington said, pointing to the missing Dr. Hagen. “He’s a treasure hunter of some sort, minor collector. A doctor, if I recall correctly. The other two were colleagues of his. But I don’t see what this has to do—”

“He’s a doctor,” Kurt interrupted. “You’ve got that part right. He’s also a suspected terrorist, wanted in connection with the incident that occurred on Lampedusa yesterday. The others may be part of it as well.”

Kensington’s face went white. The networks had been running nonstop coverage of the story, calling it the worst industrial disaster since Bhopal. “I’ve heard nothing about terrorism,” he said. “I thought it was a chemical accident caused by that freighter that ran aground.”

“That’s what the world’s being told,” Kurt said. “But that’s not the case.”

Kensington gulped at nothing and cleared his throat. He drummed his fingers and then fidgeted with a pen on his desk as a crane rumbled to life outside.

“I . . . I really don’t know what you want me to say,” he stammered. “I don’t even remember the man’s name.”

“Hagen,” Joe said, ever helpful.

“Yes, right . . . Hagen.”

“You must be forgetful,” Kurt said. “According to the people who took this photo, you’ve met with Hagen three times. We’re hoping you at least remember what he wanted.”

Kensington sighed and looked around as if looking for help. “He wanted an invite to the party,” he said finally. “I told him I couldn’t oblige.”

“As I explained, it’s a very private affair. Reserved for only a few dozen extremely wealthy patrons and friends of the museum. Dr. Hagen could not afford a seat at the table.”

Kurt sat back. “Not even with two hundred thousand euros?”

That got Kensington’s attention, but the curator gathered himself quickly. “Not even with a million.”

Kurt had always assumed the money was to buy the artifacts, but maybe it had another purpose. “On the chance he offered you that money as a bribe, you should understand that these aren’t the kind of people who pay. They prefer to cover their tracks. They might show you the cash. Might give you a down payment or even let you hold it. But when you’ve given them what they want, they’ll make sure you never live to spend it.”

Kensington didn’t reply with indignation, he just sat silently as if he was considering Kurt’s words.

“But, then, you know that already,” Kurt added. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been gazing out the window as if the Grim Reaper was stalking you.”

“You’re waiting for them to come back,” Kurt said. “You’re afraid of them. And, trust me, you have good reason to be.”