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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:15

“Explosions,” he said.

Reza came busting in seconds later. “We have to go,” he shouted. “The rebels are here.”

Paul and Gamay reacted slowly.

“Hurry,” Reza added, heading for the next room. “We have to get to the plane.”

Paul grabbed the printouts and he and Gamay chased after Reza. As soon as they’d gathered everyone, they made for the stairs. Across the gravel, the DC-3 was starting up, its engines coughing clouds of oily smoke as they came to life.

“There’s enough room for all of us,” Reza said. “But we have to go quickly.”

They raced across the ramp to the DC-3, piling in through the cargo door. Another explosion went off behind them as the control center was hit with a rocket.

“Move forward!” Paul shouted as others climbed into the plane through the door near the tail.

Reza counted heads. There were twenty-one people inside, plus the pilot. The center’s entire staff plus Paul and Gamay.

The pilot moved the throttles up and the plane swung onto the runway, picking up speed, as more flashes lit the desert behind them.

Paul looked at Reza. “I thought you said even the rebels had to drink?”

The engines roared to full power, drowning out all other conversation, and the plane gathered speed rapidly as the cool night air helped increase the horsepower. The acceleration was brisk, but a fully loaded plane meant a very long takeoff roll, and as they neared the end of the strip, the pilot had to make a choice.

He pulled back enough to get the plane off the ground, then lowered the nose and raised the landing gear. For another thirty seconds, they cruised along at twenty feet or so, buoyed by what pilots called ground effect, a little boost in lift that came when they were close to the surface of the earth. It allowed the plane to fly before it was really going fast enough and it gave them time to pick up speed and begin a proper climb. It also brought them right over the top of a group of pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on them.

“Incoming,” the pilot shouted, banking to the right and pulling up.

They never heard the sound of the guns firing, not over the roar of those huge engines, but the cabin was suddenly alive with metal confetti and glowing sparks.

“Paul,” Gamay called out.

“I’m all right,” he called back. “You?”

Gamay was checking herself over. “Not hit,” she said.

The DC-3 was racing along, climbing just high enough to avoid trouble and speeding into the dark. The men and women inside were shaking but unharmed. Except for one.

“Reza!” someone called.

Reza had tried to stand up and then fallen forward into the aisle.

Paul and Gamay were the first to reach him. He was bleeding from a stomach wound and leg wound.

“We have to stop the blood loss,” Paul said.

Shouts went back and forth.

Gamay said, “We need to get him to a hospital. Is there a town nearby?”

The men around them shook their heads.

“Benghazi,” Reza managed to say. “We must get to Benghazi.”

Paul nodded. Ninety minutes. Suddenly, that seemed like an inordinate amount of time.