The clock in the Volvo had given up attempting to tell time sometime before they acquired the car, but Drake guessed it was around half past nine when they arrived in a cloud of dust at the Temple of Sobek. Though the temple had been partially excavated years ago, their interest lay beyond it, on a stretch of crenellated desert that seemed at first glance indistinguishable from any other patch of Egyptian dirt.
Only as they drove past the temple excavation and continued toward the site of the labyrinth dig did the idiosyncrasies of the land become plain. A field of tents had been erected in what looked more like a military operation than a scientific encampment. Jeeps and other vehicles suited for the desert were parked in neat rows, though not a single line delineated appropriate parking spaces. Beyond the vehicles and tents there was a great depression in the land where the desert had settled down on top of the ruins of the labyrinth. The depression hinted at the large circular design.
On the eastern edge of the excavation site, a portion of the labyrinth’s walls had been dug out. Another work in progress had been covered by an awning, but Drake could make out what appeared to be the formidable stone entrance to the labyrinth. A small swarm of workers did the delicate work of slowly revealing the outer wall, but from both of the open sections of the labyrinth, buckets of earth were being carried out one by one and sifted through. Other workers carried wooden beams in through the openings, presumably to bolster the walls and ceilings that were being exposed for the first time in eons.
“It’s bigger than I expected,” Jada said.
“The operation or the labyrinth?” Sully asked.
Drake studied the outline of the labyrinth again. “That may not even be all of it. There are probably lower levels, shafts and traps, other twists. These things are never as simple as they seem.”
Jada glanced at the strange ripples of the desert on top of the labyrinth, indicating its basic design. “It doesn’t seem simple at all.”
Sully agreed. “When they were trying to dig out for the lake they were going to put in—” He pointed at the initial excavation point, the broken wall. “—probably right there, the sand started to pour down into the labyrinth. Looks like the level of the desert sank above it; otherwise we wouldn’t even be seeing this much. But most of the ceilings are still intact, so the dig team isn’t going to assume that the design they’re seeing on top is the actual map of the maze.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Drake replied. “As complicated as it looks, that’s only the start.”
Most of the workers ignored them as they parked the car behind the row of others and got out. There were several vehicles there that obviously didn’t belong: luxury vehicles among the faded old trucks and vans of the workers and the Jeeps of the foremen and archaeologists. Drake took note, but then he saw a pair of men in long blue shirts and loose cotton trousers. One had a beige and blue turban, but neither wore the traditional outer robe, the galabeya, so common among the desert dwellers.
“Excuse me,” Drake said. “Can you tell us where to find Ian Welch?”
The man in the turban went on as if they were invisible and had not spoken, but the other man stopped and studied them, perhaps wondering if they worked for his employers. He chose to be careful about who he ignored, smiling and nodding and gesturing them onward toward a row of tents.
“Dr. Welch the little tent,” he said.
His English was functional at best, but Drake didn’t judge. How could he, when he knew barely a dozen words in Arabic?
They thanked the man and hurried on, cognizant of the sun crawling overhead, the morning burning away. They found Welch in a small tent, drinking from a canteen. The heat was brutal, and the archaeologist already had started to sweat. Drake thought the skinny archaeologist, with his mess of hair and his antic, nervous energy, might be the kind of guy who did a lot of sweating.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Welch said, standing to greet them. He had his glasses slipped into the crook of his shirt collar, but now he slipped them on. “I couldn’t put off going into the dig much longer.”
“Did you see anything strange when you left the restaurant last night?” Sully asked him. “Or anyone?”
Welch frowned. “No, why? Did something happen?”
Sully shook his head. “Never mind.”
Drake studied Welch. “You’re a little twitchy this morning, Ian. What’s troubling you?” Twitchier than normal, Drake had wanted to say, but he chose his words carefully.
“Oh, just a small thing,” Welch said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “The dig’s got a new sponsor as of last night. Care to guess who it might be?”
Jada blanched. “Phoenix Innovations.”
Welch pointed at her. “Got it in one try.”
“Henriksen,” Sully growled, looking around. “Is he here?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t cross paths,” Welch said.
He snatched up a canvas hat and perched it on his head, then led the way out of the tent, leaving them to follow. Drake glanced at Sully, not liking this turn of events at all. Henriksen here? He had figured they would cross paths with the man eventually but had been hoping to get in and out of the dig with Welch before that happened.
“It might not be the worst thing,” Jada said as she followed Drake out of the tent. “He can’t kill us in front of this many witnesses.”
Outside the tent, with sand blowing around them and the sun glaring, Sully had to shield his eyes to give her a surprised look.
“What?” Jada said. “I’m just looking on the bright side.”
“Your bright side is pretty dark,” Drake muttered. Then he smiled. “It’s strangely appealing.”
Jada jabbed him with her elbow as they walked after Welch. The archaeologist led them between a pair of tents and into a place where they could see the entire dig while remaining mostly hidden. A group of men and women were making their way around the outer circle of the depression, a man with a camera filming a woman who was gesturing toward the implied outline of the labyrinth and talking to the camera. The others trailed behind them, including a dark-haired woman in loose clothing and a tall, broad-shouldered blond man in a crisp white shirt and gray trousers. He looked like a politician attempting and failing to dress casually. A man constantly campaigning even if he was not running for office, Drake thought.
“Is that Henriksen?” he asked.
Jada mumbled her assent, staring at the group. She had gone pale despite the flush of the heat, and when he touched her arm to comfort her, she flinched. Her skin was cold.
“The tall woman with the dark hair is Hilary Russo. She’s the director of the expedition, in charge of the whole dig,” Welch said. “I take it you know the blonde.”
Drake said nothing. They did indeed know the woman trailing the rest of the group. Her golden hair had been tied back in a ponytail, and she looked more suited for a safari than an archaeological dig, her clothing the female equivalent of Henriksen’s Lands’ End perfection.
“I guess she’s a better actress than you thought, huh, kid?” Sully muttered, glancing at Drake.
“What the hell are they doing here?” Jada whispered, hugging herself now as if she were in an icebox instead of the desert.
“I told you, Henriksen’s taking over funding the dig,” Welch replied, hands fluttering up to tug at his hat and adjust his glasses, squirrelly as ever. “Phoenix is the sole sponsor now. He’s financing this dig and the next three that Hilary undertakes—years of funding for her and her team, which includes me if you being here doesn’t get me fired—but in exchange he gets control of the disposition of the relics, all media rights, and rights to museum exhibits. All of that. The documentary team is supposedly putting together some footage to prepare for a TV series he wants to make about all of this. Last night you mentioned how big a discovery this is, and you weren’t wrong.”
Drake paced back and forth between the tents. Jada kept staring at the group across the depression from them, but he caught Sully looking at him.
“We’ve gotta get down there before they do,” Sully said.
Drake nodded. He turned to Welch. “What you said about your job. Are you going to bail on us, Ian? We need to know. Luka and your sister’s boyfriend are dead, and we think Henriksen is the guy behind it. But it sounds to me like you’re having second thoughts about helping us.”
Jada turned to watch the exchange, her eyes wide with hurt. It had not occurred to her that Welch might go back on his word.
Welch hesitated, squirming, a man caught between the points of his moral compass. After a few seconds, he gave a small shrug. “Gretchen would kill me if I didn’t help.”
Drake thought how fortunate the man was that Henriksen’s goons had been after Jada the night before and not him. His sister would kill him if he didn’t help, and Henriksen might have him killed if he did. They had to warn him what kind of danger he was in—as soon as he showed them the labyrinth.
“So, how do we beat Henriksen into the labyrinth?” he asked. “They’ll be going inside any minute now.”
Welch smiled, nodding to himself. “Hilary wants to give them the whole tour, make a show of it. They’re supposed to be filming, right? She wants to impress, which means she is going to take them in through the front.”
Drake stared at him. “You’re saying we go through the side door?”
Jada pointed at the larger excavation, the original part of the dig, where the wall of the labyrinth had collapsed. “Can we get in that way? Is it clear?”
“Not only is it clear, it’s a hell of a lot closer to the worship chambers and the anteroom we just started digging out. One of the grad students working down there told me this morning that they’ve started to unearth clay jars and tablets that might be connected to whatever rituals were performed there by the Mistress of the Labyrinth.”
“No one’s going to stop us?” Sully asked.
Welch frowned thoughtfully, then shook his head. “For today, all three of you work for the Smithsonian.”
“We’re already traveling under false identities,” Sully said. “You can use those names.”
If Welch thought this odd, he barely frowned at the revelation. “All right. Hilary’s the only one who’d know we don’t have any visitors from the Smithsonian, and if we play our cards right, we won’t even cross paths with her.”
“I wouldn’t mind crossing paths with Henriksen,” Jada said.
Her hand fluttered toward the small of her back as if she were about to tap the gun she had hidden there to reassure herself of the solidity of its presence and its mortal promise. She hesitated and dropped her hand, but Drake had seen her reaching and found himself hoping they didn’t run into Henriksen at all. Even if Jada managed to kill him, she would only be assuring herself a prison sentence, and the secrets her father had died over might never see the light of day.
They watched as Hilary Russo led the group from Phoenix Innovations under the awning and in through the entrance to the labyrinth of Sobek.
“Let’s move out,” Sully said.
They hustled out from between the tents and across a patch of desert toward the excavation of the collapsed outer wall of the labyrinth. It was a brisk walk so that they would not draw undue attention, but the men working at the dig frowned and wiped their brows as they stared at the newcomers.
There were ladders in the ditch beside the excavated wall, but Drake was surprised to find that the expedition had installed temporary stairs as well, leading down from the edge of the dig to the remaining rubble just outside the shattered wall. He wondered how many tons of sand already had been removed in the excavation. In a dig like this, archaeologists would uncover certain sections, map and photograph and study them, retrieve artifacts, and then fill in the areas they had excavated to prevent them from being damaged by the elements and by entropy trying to catch up with them. But the way Welch had described it to them, much of the labyrinth was being excavated from within instead of uncovered from above; so as long as they shored up the ceilings, they might be able to explore a great deal of the interior maze without ever having to fill it in.
They descended the stairs quickly. A pair of enormous generators growled, one on either side of the entrance. Canvas tarps had been pulled aside from the breach in the wall, and he imagined that at night they hung across the opening to keep sand from blowing back into the labyrinth tunnels. During the day, Drake presumed they needed the breeze too much to worry about the sand.
As they entered the labyrinth, he heard Jada inhale deeply, as if she could breathe in the ancient history in the air. Drake had no such romantic illusions, but even so, he could feel the age of the place. It made him feel like an intruder, but he was used to such a feeling. He had, in fact, made a career of ignoring it, though sometimes it was harder than others. The past held as many secrets as the future—more, in fact—and people would pay incredible amounts of money to unravel those mysteries and maybe own a piece of the ancient world.
Hell, he loved it himself. When he had been a boy, he had read stories of adventure, of archaeological discoveries that stunned the world. He had loved old movies full of mummies or chariot races. But unlike in those antique films, the mummies he had encountered in real life had never come to life. There had been one time, in Karpathos, Greece, when he had been sure one of them moved, but nothing before or since. Still, he found it fascinating to learn how people had lived hundreds or thousands of years earlier.
So though his breath did not hitch as they entered the labyrinth of Sobek, his pulse did quicken a bit.
The walls were a shade of orange, like clay. The line of lights that hung from pegs on the wall explained the generators growling outside. Bulbs inside plastic cages were strung along the tunnel, vanishing around the corners in either direction. A quick glance showed that they were plugged into one another like strands of Christmas lights.
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