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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:16

“And mine,” her husband said.

“Somehow, I think we owed you,” Kurt replied. “It may have been our coming here that put you in danger.”

“No,” Etienne said, picking a crystal decanter off of a sterling silver tray. “These men arrived two days before you did. Cognac?”

Joe perked up. “I could use something to warm the bones.”

Etienne poured the golden liquid into a tulip-shaped glass. Joe thanked him and then sipped and savored it, enjoying the aroma as much as the taste. “Incredible.”

“It should be,” Kurt said, glancing at the decanter and then his unpretentious friend. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s a Delamain Le Voyage. Eight thousand dollars a bottle.”

Joe’s face flushed with embarrassment, but Etienne would have none of it. “The least I could do for the man who saved my life.”

“Quite right,” Nicole said.

Quite right indeed. Kurt was proud of his friend who gave so much, often with such little recognition.

Etienne returned the Baccarat crystal decanter to the serving tray and sat down, sipping his own glass and contemplating the fire.

“Leave it to me to ruin the moment,” Kurt said, “but what exactly did those men want from you? What is it about these Egyptian artifacts that makes people so willing to kill?”

The D’Campions exchanged glances. “They turned my study upside-down,” Etienne said. “Tore through our library.”

Kurt got the feeling the D’Campions didn’t want to talk about it. “Forgive me, but that’s not an answer,” he said. “Rather than point out that you’re in our debt, I’ll appeal to your sense of humanity. Thousands of lives hang in the balance. They may well depend on what you know. So I need you to be honest.”

Etienne seemed wounded by the statement. He sat as still as stone. Nicole fidgeted, playing with the hem of her dress.

Kurt stood and moved to a spot beside the fireplace, giving them time to consider what he’d said. Above the fire was a large painting. It depicted a fleet of British ships pummeling a French armada at anchor in a bay.

Kurt studied the painting quietly. Considering history and the current situation, he realized quickly what he was looking at: the Battle of the Nile.

“The boy stood on the burning deck,

Whence all but he had fled;

The flame that lit the battle’s wreck

Shone round him o’er the dead.”

Kurt whispered the verse, but Renata overheard him.

“‘Casabianca,’” he said. “The famous poem by the English poet Felicia Hemans. It’s about a twelve-year-old boy, who was the son of L’Orient’s commander. He stood at his post all through the battle right up until the end, when the ship exploded after fires reached the powder magazine.”

Kurt turned to Etienne. “This is Aboukir Bay, isn’t it?”

“Quite right,” Etienne said. “You know your history. And your verse.”

“Odd painting to be hanging in the home of a French expatriate,” Kurt added. “Most of us don’t commemorate our nation’s defeats.”

“I have my reasons,” he said.

In the lower corner the artist had signed his name: Emile D’Campion. “Ancestor of yours?”

“Yes,” Etienne replied. “He was one of Napoleon’s savants. Brought along on the ill-fated expedition to decipher the riddles of Egypt.”