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

“I gave them nothing,” Kensington said in his own defense. “I told them to go away. But you don’t understand, they . . .”

Kensington went silent and started fumbling with something on the desk before reaching down and opening a drawer.

“I’m not reaching for a gun,” Kensington said, pulling out a bottle of antacids that was almost empty.

“We can protect you,” Kurt said. “We can get you safely to the authorities who’ll keep you from harm, but you have to help us first.”

Kensington popped a few of the antacids into his mouth. It seemed to help him find his balance.

“There’s nothing to protect me from,” he said, chewing the tablets. “I mean, this is ludicrous. A couple of collectors badger me about some artifacts and suddenly I’m an arch-criminal? A mass murderer?”

“No one is accusing you of that,” Kurt said. “But these men were involved. And you’re involved with them, willingly or unwillingly. Either way, you’re in danger.”

Kensington massaged his temple as shouts from outside echoed through the building and a jackhammer went to work.

Kurt recognized the look of a man in great turmoil. He seemed to want to rub away

the pain, the noise, the stress.

“I assure you,” Kensington said, “I know nothing about those men. They simply wanted, like you, to know about some items at the auction, items I am bound in a covenant of confidentiality not to speak about. But before you get any ideas, I can tell you this: the items in question are nothing out of the ordinary. There is nothing unusual about them at all.”

The jackhammer outside finally ceased and in the relative quiet Kensington reached for a pen, his hand visibly shaking.

“They are just trinkets,” he continued, speaking almost absentmindedly as he put pen to paper. “Unauthenticated artifacts from Egypt. Nothing of great value.”

An engine roared in the courtyard below. The sound was powerful and oddly out of place. It was enough to make the hair on Kurt’s neck stand up. He turned to see a shadow swinging across the stained glass of the window.

A mighty crash followed as the business end of a crane boom punched through the window like a battering ram.

Glass shards and dust flew in all directions as the yellow-and-black boom plowed forward, hitting Kensington’s desk and crushing it up against the wall, pinning Kensington in the process.

The boom pulled back several feet and Kurt lunged toward Kensington, grabbing him and dragging him out of the way before a second thrust of the crane took out the remnants of the desk and punched a hole in the ancient stone wall behind it.

A third thrust almost brought the roof down on them.

“Kensington!” Kurt said, looking at the man.

Kensington’s face was mangled, his nose broken, his lips and teeth smashed. The end of the boom had caught him flush. He didn’t respond but seemed to be breathing.

Kurt laid him on the ground and noticed the crumpled note in his hand. He grabbed it just as Joe shouted a warning.

The boom was swinging to the side. Kurt covered Kensington and lay as flat as he could while the attackers took out another wall.

This time, the boom got caught on the stonework beneath the window. A halfhearted attempt was made to free it and then it stopped altogether.

Kurt dashed to the gaping hole in the wall. He saw a man in the cab of the small crane desperately working the controls while another man stood by, armed with a submachine gun.

Spotting Kurt, the gunman raised his weapon and fired a quick burst. Kurt pulled back as the bullets hit near the opening but failed to find the mark.

By now, Joe was on the phone, calling for help. He was still requesting assistance when there was more gunfire.

Kurt could tell that these shots had been aimed in a different direction. He looked back outside. The attackers were running, shooting above a crowd to get the people out of their way.