Page 83

The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:18

The pilot looked at his watch. “Work is done,” he said. “Time for home.”

Kurt stepped in with a wad of cash. “How about overtime?”

The man seemed to run a cursory calculation while studying the cash. “That should do it,” he said. He tossed the cigarette into the river and welcomed them aboa

They climbed in, settled down beneath the shade of the Bimini top and turned their eyes toward the water as the boat moved off.

“Head upriver,” Kurt said.

The driver nodded, turned the boat and gave the throttle a nudge.

The boat picked up speed, fighting the current, as Kurt, Joe and Renata played the part of tourists. Before long, they were taking pictures, pointing out various things along the river’s banks and enjoying the breeze. Kurt even pulled out a pair of small binoculars. All the while constantly checking the tracking display.

The signal was continuing upriver. Moving slowly.

“How far do you want to go?” the pilot asked. “All the way to Luxor?”

“Just keep going for now,” Kurt said. “A nice, leisurely cruise. I’ll tell you when we’ve had enough.”

The pilot kept them moving. They passed a tug that was pushing several barges and a ferry packed with tourists that blasted its horn several times for reasons no one could fathom.

Along the shore, everything was made of concrete. Apartment blocks, hotels and office towers rose on both sides of the river.

They passed under the 6th October Bridge as the traffic roared over it. Horns were honking, fumes from the exhaust falling to the water below.

“Not exactly a romantic cruise,” Renata said. “I was expecting feluccas and wooden fishing boats. Men casting nets into the shallows.”

“Might as well expect that in the Hudson where it passes Manhattan,” Kurt replied. “Cairo is the biggest city in the Middle East. Eight million people live here.”

“Seems kind of a shame,” she said.

“It’s far more primitive farther upriver,” he promised. “I’ve heard that crocodiles have even returned to Lake Nasser. Though, hopefully, we’re not going that far.”

“You want romance?” Joe said. “Take a look at this.”

Off in the distance, the Pyramids of Giza loomed above the sprawl of the city. The afternoon haze was painting the sky orange, and the Pyramids themselves were salmon-colored and seemed almost luminescent in the glow.

The sight seemed to only deepen Renata’s regret. “I’ve always wanted to see the Pyramids up close. But I can barely see them for all the buildings. Looks like they’ve built the city right up to the nose of the Sphinx.”

Even Kurt was surprised. “When I came here as a kid, we climbed all the way to the top of Cheops. As high as you could go. There was nothing between the river and the Pyramids except palm trees, green fields and growing crops.”

He often wondered if a time would come when every square inch of the world would be covered by concrete. Not a place he wanted to live in. “How’s our friend doing?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Still heading south,” she whispered. “But he’s crossing over to the far side. Angling toward the other bank.”

Kurt whistled to get the pilot’s attention. “Take us over there,” he said, pointing.

The pilot adjusted course and the boat tracked a diagonal path across the river as if heading straight for the Pyramids. As they got closer to the west bank, the skyline crowded out the tops of the ancient ruins in the distance, but a new sight came into view: a massive construction project along the river’s edge, complete with cranes, bulldozers and cement trucks.

A lengthy section of the shore was being rebuilt.

Buildings, parking areas and landscaping were nearing completion. Fences around the construction site were covered with huge banners declaring, in both Arabic and English, Osiris Construction.

The work on land was impressive, but the engineering in the river was what caught Kurt’s eye.

From where they were, he could see a channel cut into the riverbank. It was at least a hundred feet wide and a half mile long. Looking at the satellite view displayed on Renata’s computer, he could see it ran the entire length of the project like a canal. A thick concrete partition walled it off from the rest of the river, and churning white water was gushing from the far end.