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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:09

With the rifle stowed, he carefully wrapped a scarf around his damaged face, making sure to conceal a length of gauze soaked in antibiotic healing ointment that covered the back of his neck. Then he stepped away and vanished into the night.

“I thought you were going to wait until I got here to make any moves?” The words came from Renata Ambrosini.

She was sitting with Kurt and Joe in a luxurious suite on the top floor of the most expensive hotel in Malta. Kurt was holding a scotch on the rocks against his forehead to soothe a nasty bump he’d taken. Joe was trying to stretch his back and loosen a crick in his neck.

The fact that they weren’t in prison was a minor miracle. But after they had been arrested and detained, calls from the U.S. and Italian governments and an eyewitness video of their heroics tipped the scales in their favor. In two hours they went from being threatened with fifty years of hard labor to being considered for knighthood in the Order of Saint John. Not a bad day’s work, but either one of them would have traded the accolades for a better clue.

“Believe me, we tried,” Kurt said. “Not much we could do once they smashed the wall in and took off running.”

Renata poured a drink of her own and sat beside Kurt. “At least you two are all right. Both Kensington and Hagen are dead.”

Joe looked dejected. “I should have just left him on the ground. He was only half conscious when I brought him to the wall.”

“Don’t blame yourself,” Kurt said. “You couldn’t know they’d have a sniper providing cover for their escape.”

Joe nodded. “Did we find out what was in the syringe?”

“Ketamine,” Renata said. “A standard, fast-acting anesthetic. Nothing like what hit us in Lampedusa.”

“Any chance ketamine is the antidote?” Kurt asked hopefully.

“I’ve had Dr. Ravishaw try it,” she said. “Just in case. No effect. So we’re back to square one.”

Kurt took a sip of the scotch, eyeing the crumpled note Kensington had given him.

“Getting names and phone numbers while you were out there?” Renata asked.

“Kensington was writing this when the battering ram came through the wall.”

“Sophie C. . . . doesn’t sound familiar.”

“Not to us either,” Kurt said. “But he was trying to tell us something.”

“Maybe Kensington wants us to find this person,” Joe suggested. “Maybe she can help us. Maybe Sophie C. is the mystery patron who’s donating all the artifacts for this big auction.”

“Too bad he didn’t write faster,” Kurt said.

“Why write at all?” Renata asked. “Why not just tell you?”

Kurt had been wondering that too. “From the way he was talking and glancing around the room, it seemed like the place might have been bugged. Or, at least, Kensington thought it was.”

She took a sip from her glass. “So he writes a note to give you some information while telling you out loud that he knows nothing.”

Kurt nodded. “Guess he figured they could hear him but not see him. I think he was trying to help us but not get caught.”

“So why’d they kill him if they had him under their thumb?” she asked.

“Same reason they shot Hagen,” Kurt said. “Covering their tracks. They must have figured he was going to crack sooner or later. Our arrival probably just sped things up.”

“They could have been targeting all three of you,” she suggested.

“Possibly,” Kurt said. The reasons didn’t matter at this point. The outcome did. And the score was tilting heavily in their adversary’s favor now that they’d lost their two best leads. At least they were still in the game. “We must find this Sophie person,” Kurt said, turning to Renata. “You’ve better access to names and records than we do. Think your friends at Interpol can help? Maybe she’s a friend of Kensington’s or a member of the museum’s board or one of the donors.”

“Maybe she’s one of the people invited to the party,” Joe said.