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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:11

“Are you sure it’s not an early version of The Incredible Hulk?” Kurt replied quietly.

“Now, that would really be worth something,” Joe whispered back.

He raised a camera, scanned the artwork and then covered it up once again before moving on.

On the other side of the warehouse, Kurt was having less luck but was moving as quickly as he dared. Like most museums, this one had far more artifacts than it could possibly display. As a result, they would often loan pieces out or rotate exhibits, but most of the overflow remained in the warehouse.

That and the lack of any discernible method of organization were making the job even harder. So far, Kurt had discovered sections dating to the Peloponnesian conflict and the Roman Empire located side by side with artifacts from both World Wars. He’d come across a section of relics from the French Revolution, weapons the British carried at Waterloo and even a scarf allegedly used to stem Admiral Nelson’s bleeding when he’d been wounded at Trafalgar.

Kurt imagined the scarf might have carried almost religious significance for the Royal Navy if it was authentic. The fact that it was up for sale in Malta made him doubt its provenance. But treasures had been found in backyards before.

Next, he found some Napoleonic artifacts, including several with placards beside them, one of which read XVI.

A step in the right direction, he said to himself.

The first thing he discovered was a group of letters, including orders Napoleon had sent to his commanders demanding more discipline in the ranks. The next batch of documents was a request for more money. This letter had been sent back to Paris, only to be intercepted by the British. Finally, there was a small book, listed as Napoleon’s Diary.

Despite the time crunch they were under, Kurt couldn’t resist looking. He’d never heard of Napoleon’s diary before. He opened the container and unzipped a fireproof envelope that surrounded the book. It turned out not to be a diary at all but instead a copy of Homer’s Odyssey, in Greek. He flipped through the pages. Notes in French had been scribbled in the margins here and there. Napoleon’s? He guessed that was the idea, but perhaps one that was up fo

Still, as he studied the pages, he noticed something else: certain words were circled and some pages were missing. By the ragged edges he found, Kurt guessed the pages had been torn out. The prospectus sheet attached to the diary indicated it had been with the deposed emperor right up until his death on Saint Helena.

Despite his curiosity, Kurt closed the book, sealed up its container and moved on. It was interesting, but the men who’d killed Kensington were looking for Egyptian artifacts.

In the next section, Kurt found two glass-walled tanks, each the size of a small truck. The first tank held various treasures on porcelain racks and looked almost like a giant dishwasher. The second contained a pair of large cannon barrels, suspended on slings. A note scribbled in grease pencil on the glass indicated the tanks were filled with distilled water, a fairly common method to pull embedded salts out of iron and brass objects recovered from the sea.

He peered through the glass. Nothing Egyptian in either tank.

“Just like the supermarket,” he muttered, “I’m always shopping in the wrong aisle.”

He switched aisles and then stopped and crouched in the shadows. He saw movement in the gloom ahead of him at the far end of the aisle. A man and a woman. Strangely, they were dressed like attendees at the party. And both were holding pistols.

Kurt pressed the talk switch on his own earpiece and said to Joe, “I’ve run into some company.”

“I’m not alone on this side either,” Joe replied.

“Meet me in the middle,” Kurt said. “We need to take cover.”

He backtracked and met Joe close to the two distilled-water tanks.

“A group of men came out of the office armed to the teeth,” Joe said. “They were dressed like guards, but they had another man held at gunpoint. So I’d say there’s been a takeover of the most hostile variety. I suggest we hide or exit stage left.” He pointed back down the aisle.

“Can’t go that way,” Kurt said. “There’s a couple coming from that direction as well.”

“Not unless guards wear tuxedos and evening gowns. They must have come from the party.”

Before anything else was said, they heard the dull rolling of heavy wheels on the concrete floor. A pair of flashlight beams bounced lazily across the shelves ahead as the group Joe had seen neared the corner.

“Should we head back to the crate?” Joe asked.

Kurt looked around. He’d lost track of the second group. And he didn’t like the idea of running around the warehouse hoping not to bump into any gun-toting madmen. Especially when there seemed to be so many of them.

“No,” he said. “We need to hide.”