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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:08

The target was out ahead, still running, heading for yet another wall. This one was at the very front of the fort, where it jutted out into the harbor. So far, they’d gone up to the top and come down two levels of the wedding cake. Kurt figured this was the end of the line. They were on the lower tier of the fort now and the drop on the other side of the wall was seventy, perhaps eighty feet, with nothing at the bottom but rocks.

The man seemed to realize this, hitting the brakes before he got to the wall and looking back at Kurt. After a slight hesitation, he took off again, raced for the wall at a dead run and launched himself off of its precipice. It was a suicide leap if ever he’d seen one.

Kurt reached the edge and looked over, expecting to find a hopelessly smashed body lying on the rocks below. Instead, he saw a narrow rectangular cut carved into the stone like a canal. Not only was the man who’d jumped alive, he was swimming like an Olympic champion out toward a waiting motorboat.

There was nothing he could do but watch in grudging admiration as the swimmer was hauled aboard the boat, which sped off and disappeared into the night.

“What happened?” a voice shouted from one level above him.

Kurt looked back to see Joe holding Dr. Hagen up by the scruff of the neck.

“He got away,” Kurt said. “Have to hand it to him, he earned it.”

“At least we have this one,” Joe replied.

As Joe spoke, a sharp crack rang out and the prisoner sagged to his knees and then fell sideways. Both Kurt and Joe dove for cover, but no additional shots came forth.

From his spot behind the ramparts of the wall, Kurt looked around. Both he and Joe were smart enough to stay down, shouting to each other from behind the safety of the stone walls.

“Joe,” Kurt called out. “Tell me you’re all right.”

“I’m okay,” Joe called back, sounding glum. “But our prisoner is dead.”

Kurt could have guessed. “Damn,” he muttered. “All this for nothing.”

“Any idea where the shot came from?”

Considering Joe’s position on the upper level and the way the sound echoed off the walls, the shot had to have come from somewhere across the water. “The other side of the harbor,” Kurt guessed.

He risked a glance in that direction. The speedboat was gone, but that was no platform to shoot from anyway. On the far shore were other structures, including the fortifications and flat gunnery plaza of another fort.

“That’s at least a thousand feet,” Joe said.

“In the dark, with a slight wind,” Kurt said. “Heck of a shot.”

“Especially on the first try,” Joe added. “Without correcting.”

It wasn’t morbidity that led them to talk this way. They were trying to determine the nature of their enemy. “And they took out their own guy instead of us,” Kurt added.

“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Joe asked. “That these guys are professionals?”

“Heavy hitters,” Kurt said. “Hagen was just a dupe.”

By now, police units were racing down the road to the fort. Flashing red and blue lights on a powerboat cruising toward them from the inner harbor showed the police were out there as well. Too late, Kurt thought. The culprits were dead or gone.

Keeping his head down in case the sniper was still in place, he pulled the note Kensington had been trying to write from his pocket. It was covered in blood, but part of it was readable. It seemed to be a name. Sophie C. . . .

It rang no bells. But, then, nothing seemed to make sense at the moment. He hid the note, waited for the police to arrive and wondered when their luck was going to turn.

Across the river, on ruins every bit as old and auspicious as those of Fort Saint Angelo, another figure was convinced that his luck had done just that. He stood, gazing at the aftermath of his shot.

He’d sighted the enemy, adjusted for the wind and fought off a sudden blurring of his vison, forcing a double image back into one and pulling the trigger. The vision problems went along with the slowly healing blisters and sores on his face.

Number four wore those scars with pride. He’d survived the death march back to the checkpoint and he’d been given a second chance to serve Osiris. With a single shot, he’d proven his worth.

He disassembled a long-barreled sniper’s rifle, perused the electronic photo of the killing shot he’d taken and wondered briefly if he should have killed the Americans instead. But there was only time for one clean shot and Hagen had to be silenced. He’d made the right choice. He’d kill the Americans next time.