Story by Ike Keen
Illustration by Cesar Valtierra
Cairo can be a mysterious place. An exotic place where tourists come to enjoy the mystery of it and hope, just hope they can find a treasure to take home to tell their friends about. The only treasure they usually take home is some worthless piece that either a stall vendor or shopkeeper swears came from a forgotten tomb or temple. The only tomb or temple it came from is a shop on the backstreets. Cast and aged to look as if it were ancient.
Of course, there is the occasional item bought that is real but those are usually not out in plain sight. They are in a back room, locked in a safe, hidden away from curious eyes. That was where Dr. Cromwell found the map.
Dixon and McFerrin sat in Ben Amon’s office at the Museum of Cairo, both wondering if it had anything to do with their last adventure; the one where they had procured the Tears of Allah. Dixon shifted in his chair and tried to come up with a story that would keep them out of hot water.
“If the bugger starts bad mouthing us let me handle him,” McFerrin cut into Dixon’s thoughts, “the little bastard is afraid of me.”
Dixon grunted and went back to thinking. Yes, Amon was afraid of McFerrin, but right now that would be the worst thing Dixon could let McFerrin do. Threaten Amon. Dixon wanted to stay out of jail if that was why they were here.
McFerrin started to speak again when the door behind them opened and Ben Amon and Inspector Hanes walked in. Amon was a small man, probably a few inches over five feet tall, dark-skinned and dressed impeccably. Inspector Hanes was typically British. Dressed in an off-white suit, pith helmet and sweating like a horse. Hanes was big boned, his hands stubby fingered, his face red from the sun.
Amon walked around his desk and stood by his chair eyeing the two, one hand on the back as he paused before he sat. Hanes stood behind them. McFerrin looked at Dixon and Dixon. Shrugged; shook his head and hoped McFerrin got the message to keep his mouth shut. McFerrin must have had his blinders on because he leaned forward and stared at Amon. Dixon groaned as McFerrin spoke.
“Look Benny boy,” McFerrin growled as he spoke. “What happened out there in that desert you can’t pin on us. We had a right to do what we did.”
“And what did you do Brian?” Amon’s voice was smooth; a slight smile was on his face.
“Survived,” Dixon spoke and waved a hand. “We were tricked into believing the woman was the daughter of….”
“Yes, yes, I’ve heard the story. Inspector Hanes told it to me. He wants to toss you in jail.”
“Leave it to the bloody Brits to want that.” McFerrin looked over his shoulder and glared at Hanes. Hanes glared back.
“Yes, you stole and sold a priceless piece of Egyptian history. Destroyed an archeological find and killed two thieves. How much did you get for the tears?”
Dixon shrugged and said, “In American dollars, ten thousand.”
Hanes gasped and Amon’s grin widened.
“Enough to retire on, yes?”
“I suppose,” Dixon answered. “Look, if you plan to arrest us, let’s get on with it. If not, then we’ll be on our way.”
Dixon started to stand and Hanes’ hand pushed him back down. Dixon looked over his shoulder. Hanes had a wicked smile on his face.
“I have convinced Inspector Hanes not to do that.” Amon leaned on his desk, his eyes sparkling. “We had quite an argument over it but I won. You see, I need you to find something for me.”
“Uh-huh. Sounds like it’s one of those do it and we’ll dismiss charges. Don’t do it and we see the inside of an Egyptian prison for a few years, right?”
Amon nodded. McFerrin started to speak and Dixon elbowed him, McFerrin grunted and cut his eyes toward Dixon.
“Can it Brian, let’s hear what Amon wants.” Dixon said in a low voice.
“Wise choice.” Amon leaned back a little as he spoke. “Have you heard of the Scarab of Kadar?”
“Who hasn’t,” McFerrin cut in.
“It’s supposed to be a sapphire,” continued Dixon, “big as a fist in a scarab setting. It was placed on the chest of Kadar’s mummy to weight against the feather of truth during his final judgment.”
“Was supposed to do that, yes, but this scarab had a different purpose.” Amon steeped his fingers in front of his mouth and let his smile widen. “Kadar committed a sacrilege during the reign of Ramses the first. What that sacrilege was is a mystery but it was bad enough to seal his body with the scarab on his chest, a dark spell inscribed on it. The spell is said to have entrapped his soul in the sapphire. Never to cross the Styx. Never to have peace. His soul tormented to look out upon the darkness of his coffin for eternity.”
McFerrin grunted. This was a new one for him. He had heard of the scarab but never the story behind it. It must have been a hell of a sacrilege Kadar had committed.
“Professor Crowell, you know him, don’t you?” Amon cocked his head a little. Dixon nodded, started to answer and Amon continued. “He says he has a map to the location of the tomb where Kadar is buried. He plans an expedition to it and wants you to guide it.”
Yes, Dixon knew Cromwell. He had guided a couple of expeditions for the little man. Expeditions that had ended in barely returning to Cairo alive.
“He says he will pay you. Of course, any monies you receive will be paid to the museum as repayment for the jewels you stole and fenced here in the city.”
“I told you we should have let Hakeem fence the stones,” McFerrin mumbled. Dixon shot him a nasty look. Dixon had fenced the stones.
“Oh yes,” Amon said, “Mr. Hakeem will be going with you.”
The door behind them opened and a robed figure was pushed inside. Joseph Hakeem stumbled in; his head snapped around, an Arabic oath, not a good one, came from his lips.
“Mr. Hakeem seems to have been threatening the shop owner you sold the jewels too. He said they were a treasure beyond price. If he wanted to keep his life, he would hand them over.”
Dixon looked a Hakeem and he shrugged. “Their heritage is sacred. Also, another man offered me more than you got if I could get my hands on them.”
Hakeem grinned and Hanes grunted. No doubt, Hakeem threatened to slit the man’s throat if he didn’t hand them over.
“How did you get caught?” Dixon asked.
Hakeem shook his head and chuckled. “One of Hanes lackeys was passing by and happened to see me bending the shopkeeper over his counter. He hit me with his pistol butt and hauled me down to the police station. He also arrested the shopkeeper for stolen property. His shop held a lot.”
“Well then, what do you say gentlemen, freedom or a cell?” Amon asked.
“Where’s Cromwell?” Dixon asked.
“Very wise. Hanes will escort you to him.”
Hanes grinned and I grunted. One of these days, someone like Hakeem was going to slit his throat. When that happened… Dixon smiled at the thought.
— ♦♦♦ —
The Sand Sea Hotel was on the very edge of the city, the road running past it led out into the desert. It was once the garrison and offices of the French Foreign Legion until 1918. The Legion moved into newer quarters that year, selling the old building to a Sheik who did a little renovation work then opened it for business.
Since that time, it had run down considerably. The bricks were crumbling, as was the mortar holding them in place. The front doors were weather worn since the sandstorms were the first to blast them before moving on into the city. The name of the hotel was almost gone on the windows and the ones in the doors were cracked and fixed with tape.
Dust hung in the air in the lobby, the rug worn bare by feet scrubbing sand into it. A few worn chairs sat around off to the right. What had once been a dining area was walled off. A no admittance sign hung on the door in the wall. Dixon, Hakeem, and McFerrin walked toward the front desk. Dixon glanced over his shoulder and saw Hanes and two armed men by the lobby doors.
“It seems our friend doesn’t trust us,” Hakeem said in a low voice.
“Or he’s just waiting for us to try and make a break for it.” Dixon smiled. McFerrin nodded. Dixon had trouble with Hanes off and on. More on than off. Since he had become an Inspector, any men who made a living searching for treasures in the desert were thieves and no goods. Or so he says. Dixon figured it was because most of the people who were in this business refused to, as the American saying goes, grease his palm.
Dixon didn’t and Hanes looked for any excuse to haul him in. Most of the time it didn’t stick. This time was an exception.
“May I help you gentlemen?” the desk clerk asked.
“Professor Clark Cromwell,” Dixon said.
“Ah yes, you must be the one he calls Dixon. His room is 312. Shall I call him that you are coming?”
“Why not?” Dixon turned and leaned against the desk, gave a wave to Hanes then jerked his head toward the stairs. Three shots sounded, muffled, but gunshots. Dixon pushed off the desk and ran for the stairs, taking them two at a time rounding the landing and seeing a body backing toward the top step of the third-floor hall.
Dixon sprinted up the steps, reached the top one just as another gunshot split the air. The man backing away grunted then crumbled, fell to his knees and groaned. Dixon froze as he saw a small, white-haired man standing in the hallway with a pistol in his hand, his eyes wide and his hand shaking.
“He wanted my map. Tried to kill me for it.”
“Easy professor.” Dixon stepped up and took the pistol from Cromwell. The man bent over suddenly fell forward; his head thumped the floor, a long sigh escaping his lips just as Hanes ran up the steps.
“What the hell?” Hanes stopped, knelt beside the man on the floor, checked his pulse then stood.
“Where’s the gun?” Hanes walked toward Dixon and Cromwell with his hand out. Dixon handed him the pistol. Hanes looked it over.
“.38,” he said, “he fired it?”
“What do you think?” Dixon said and helped Cromwell back into his room.
“Don’t be a smartass, Dixon. I could still haul your ass down to the jail.”
“You could but then…”
“Dixon, Chase Dixon?” Cromwell stopped and stared at Dixon. Dixon nodded.
“Good, good. Glad you’re here. We need to start out right away. Others have been trying to get my map. One of them tried to come in the window and I kicked his ass back out of it.”
Dixon looked at Hanes and Hanes shrugged. “First time I’ve heard of it.”
“Please.” Cromwell walked over to the table and picked up a leather journal, walked back over and handed it to Dixon. “In here is the map. I drew it from bits and pieces of my research.”
Hanes started to reach for the journal and Dixon stepped back, knocked his hand away and made a fist. Hanes reached into his jacket pocket and stepped toward Dixon, his hand gripped the pistol he had taken from Dixon, the grin on his face wide and deadly.
“Give me the….”
Hanes never finished his sentence. Instead, his eyes rolled up in his head. He fell to the floor, McFerrin standing behind him, a blackjack in his hand, Hakeem chuckling.
“It is hard to search a man completely when he wears a robe; too many places to hide things.” Hakeem said.
“Who is he?” Cromwell asked pointing to Hanes.
“A dirty police inspector.” Dixon opened the journal and scanned the pages. There were a lot of drawings. One of the Great Sand Sea; a dashed line leading through it to the ridges on the south side. After that, there were only notes and partial drawings. One of a cliff face; a dashed line leading up it to a spot near the top.
“Is this where the Scarab is Cromwell?” Dixon asked.
“Yes, or so my research tells me.”
“Research?” McFerrin growled.
Cromwell nodded and Dixon handed him the journal. Other wonders of the desert had been found with research. Some minor, others major. It was a chance you took when hunting for the lost treasures of a dead civilization. Dixon nudged Hanes with the toe of his boot and then looked out into the hall.
“What happened to his guards?” Dixon asked.
McFerrin and Hakeem looked at each other and grinned. Dixon shook his head and held up a hand.
“I don’t want to know. We need to leave now. Grab your things professor.”
“Yes, yes.” Cromwell said and walked over to the bed, grabbed up a messenger bag and walked back. “The rest is in the truck.”
“Then let’s go.” Dixon stepped out into the hall and looked around. He also listened. A commotion was drifting up the stairwell. Dixon walked down the hall and opened the window. A rusty fire escape clung to the side of the building. He let out a sigh and motioned for them to follow, hoping it would hold until they got down on the ground.
— ♦♦♦ —
As always, Dixon said they would travel at night. This was the height of the summer and the Great Sand Sea was as hot as a boiling kettle during the day. When the sun went down, the desert got cool enough to wear a coat. Cromwell disagreed.
“We travel at night, we might miss a landmark. The landmarks are important to keep us from getting lost in this waterless landscape.”
Dixon smiled and shook his head. “Traveling at night will save us water. These vehicles tend to overheat in the daytime sun. You want to get across it, then we travel at night, less stress on the engines and less having to refill radiators.”
“He is right,” Hakeem said as he tied on the last of the equipment, “but the way there is not without water. If I know Dixon, he will cut a path to where an oasis is.”
Dixon nodded and took the map he had copied from Cromwell’s journal. He eyed it for a moment then motioned to the others. “Load up, we’ll get started. Cromwell, you’ll ride with us.”
“To see that nothing happens to you.” Hakeem tossed an arm around Cromwell’s shoulders and gave him a big grin. Cromwell grunted and crawled in the back, Hakeem beside him, Dixon and McFerrin in the front. McFerrin reached down in the floorboard and pulled a Thompson up onto his lap, slid back the bolt and grinned.
“Why do you have that?” Cromwell said wide-eyed.
“Protection from Jinn.” McFerrin chuckled and Dixon motioned for the truck behind them to follow. It was full dark when they pulled away from Cairo. A full moon had half risen on the horizon, the sand taking on a silvery glow. Dixon had been out in the desert many times before like this, the dunes a pale white, wisps of sand blowing up in the light breeze and sparkling like diamonds.
The desert can be a beautiful place but it can also be a deadly place. Quicksand, snakes, scorpions, and the nomads. Many an expedition had started to trek out across the desert, looking for fame, glory, and riches, only to find deadly heat, and the landmarks on the map weren’t there. The sands shifted all the time; sometimes uncovering ancient ruins, only to cover them up the next night.
Or be attacked by the nomads that roamed the dunes. Most were territorial. Crossing what they claimed to be theirs either getting you shot or, if you had something to trade, still getting you shot and all your equipment and whatever treasures you found falling into their hands.
Dixon rolled across a dune then turned, heading east on the hard pack he knew ran for a few miles. Cromwell tapped him on the shoulder and hissed in his ear, “South, we must head south!”
“No backseat drivers,” McFerrin growled at him, “set back.”
Dixon grinned and followed the hard pack, watching the dunes for any signs of being followed. At one in the morning they stopped to stretch their legs, Hakeem climbed one of the dunes and scouted the terrain.
“The ridge we must get to is to the south,” Cromwell growled and Dixon, “why are we headed east?”
“We were headed east,” Dixon answered him, “if you’d been paying attention, you’d know we are going in a southwest direction now. You better hope to hell this hard pack hasn’t been covered at some point. If that’s the case, then we will be on foot.”
Cromwell started to speak again but Hakeem came down the hill, sand tumbling down with him he moved so fast.
“We have company,” Hakeem said when he got to Dixon.
“Any Idea who they are?”
“Possibly Ali Hamad’s men. Too far away to tell. He claims this part of the desert. Usually, he is farther south though. Strange he is here.”
“Maybe not. Someone may have tipped him off and I have a suspicion who.”
“I think you are right.” Hakeem grinned and loosened the tarp on the back of the car, pulled out a rifle and checked the magazine. “Just in case.”
Dixon laughed and nodded. He checked his .45, chambered a round; then holstered it.
“I say,” Cromwell said looking from one to the other, “what about me?”
“Don’t worry professor, I told Hakeem if they tried to get you and did, to put a bullet in your head.” Dixon said and laughed.
“Damned, bloody bastard!” Cromwell snapped. Hakeem laughed and patted the professor on the back.
“Even on a horse at a dead run, I never miss.”
Cromwell’s face went pale and he took a step back, Hakeem smiled a wicked smile, crawled into the car and motioned for him to follow.
— ♦♦♦ —
At first light, Dixon pulled up under a rock shelf that the wind had uncovered in the last sandstorm. The car and truck he parked close to a dune, telling the two men driving it to take turns guarding it. The sun was above the horizon and the air was heating up, the heat already shimmering off the sand.
He and McFerrin rigged up the tarp to the rock shelf then propped it up on the outer ends with poles. It made a good shade and kept the sand from blowing off the shelf into their food. While McFerrin and Hakeem argued about frying bacon (pork is not on Hakeem’s list) Dixon sat down beside Cromwell.
Cromwell took off his hat and wiped his forehead as he asked, “Bloody good thing you knew this shelter was here. That blasted sun is hot enough to bake a man’s brain.”
“It wasn’t here the last time I came through,” Dixon answered and shrugged, “the desert changes constantly professor. The other time there was a big dune here.”
“I say, how long have you been wandering this arid land?”
“Since I was a youngster. My father was an archeologist. He was hunting tombs way before those other knuckleheads started. I just followed in his footsteps.”
Cromwell grunted and went back to his journal. Dixon sat looking at the dune across from them. He could remember climbing a lot of them back when he was a kid. His father dragging him along. His mother protesting but still, Dixon went. As he said, his father had been digging out ruins way before the Valley of the Kings was unearthed.
Most of those, tombs carved into the ridges on the south side of the desert. It was on one of those ridges his father was killed. Ben Abdul Ali had taken him down. The Nomad, a fierce desert fighter, very protective of his lands and the tombs they harbored. His father and his men held Ben Abdul off to almost a week but ammunition ran low and Dixon’s father set him on a camel with his trusted friend, Jacob Hasan and told him to get the boy to safety. The man did and when Dixon’s mother heard about his death, she packed them up and went back the States where Dixon finished school, went to college and studied the profession of his father.
When his mother died, he came back to Cairo. Not to find hidden treasure, but to kill the man who had killed his father. That was ten years ago. He was still hunting for Ben Abdul. He stood, walked over to the fire and Hakeem grunted and pointed at the frying pan.
“I do not understand how you can eat such filth.” Hakeem made a face and shivered.
“Because we are heathens.” Dixon crouched beside him and smiled.
“Yeah,” said McFerrin, “bacon to us is like goat is to you and that’s nasty meat. Besides, I wouldn’t want you to defile yourself and not get into heaven. By the way, is it true that when you go to heaven, there will be seventy virgins waiting for you?”
“Yes,” Hakeem answered him, his eyes narrowed. “It is a reward for being faithful.”
“What if they’re all ugly?” McFerrin grinned and Hakeem snorted. Dixon laughed and told McFerrin to hurry up, he wanted to eat and get some sleep.
— ♦♦♦ —
“Dix, wake up!”
It was McFerrin’s voice. Dixon’s eyes snapped open and he bolted upright, his head jerking left to right, his hand grabbed the .45 under his pillow. McFerrin came around the corner of the makeshift tent and then bent down to come in, his face tense and his eyes narrowed.
“Cromwell and his cronies are gone. The car and truck too.” McFerrin growled.
“Where’s Hakeem?” Dixon said standing.
“He’s gone. When I went to get him, he wasn’t at his post. The damned bugger! I bet he….”
Dixon waved McFerrin off and strode out from under the shelter, his .45 going in his holster as he looked around. Both vehicles had been behind a sand dune. The starting of the motors muted by the dune. Dixon followed the tracks and behind the dune, he saw that the car and truck had gone south, the tracks cutting across the low part of the dune. Dixon turned and inspected what was left of the camp. At least they had left them some water but that was about all.
“Where was Hakeem the last time you saw him?” Dixon asked McFerrin.
“When he took over, he climbed up on the rock shelf. He said it gave him a better view of the surrounding desert.”
Dixon nodded and walked up the dune the rock shelf jutted out of. Yes, Hakeem had been there. Butts from his favorite cigarettes littered the rock shelf. As Dixon took a closer look, he saw drops of blood among the butts. Dixon turned and scanned the desert, his eyes narrowed as he looked for a sign of a man in the sand.
“He took off with them the bastard,” McFerrin grunted, “I never did trust that….”
Suddenly a figure popped up on the top of the dune in front of them. The figure waved and then started toward them. Dixon smiled. Hakeem came down the dune and trotted over to where they stood. He was out of breath; a crust of dried blood covered the side of his face.
“Those men who were following us, they jumped me while I was on guard. Jamal’s men. I must have been dozing or they would not have surprised me.”
Hakeem touched the side of his head and flinched. “I was only half conscious when they bound me and started to leave me here. That was when another came up and told them to take me across to the other dune and toss me down the side.”
“Did you see the one who told them?” Dixon asked.
“My vision was in and out but I recognized the voice. It was our friend Hanes.”
“The bloody bastard!” McFerrin hissed.
“I came to only a few minutes ago and managed to slip the ropes they tied me with.”
Dixon nodded and walked back down to the camp, his face tight. He had figured Hanes was crooked. He’d heard tales of the man arresting men who had come back from expeditions in the desert and those men either disappeared or ended up in jail only to never be heard from again.
“Well.” Dixon said and pointed, “They headed south. Following them is out of the question since we have no transportation.”
“Maybe we have.” Hakeem grinned then flinched again, the motion causing him pain, “While I was on guard, I noticed a caravan on the horizon. I suspect they stopped at the oasis to rest for the day.”
Dixon grinned and nodded.
“Let’s see about your head first. It’s probably just a cut but I doubt if it’s serious.”
“Probably not,” McFerrin said and smiled, “I’ve never known a Bedouin to have a soft head.”
“Are you saying I’m hardheaded?” Hakeem gave McFerrin a nasty look.
“And Stubborn,” McFerrin said as he started gathering up things.
Hakeem started to reply and Dixon cut him off, motioned to the tent and chuckled as Hakeem gave McFerrin a narrow-eyed glare.
— ♦♦♦ —
They reached the oasis around midnight. The one leading it Hakeem knew. Yusef Hared was in his tent, music coming from it and the tinkle of dancing girl’s bracelets and finger cymbals sounded in the night air.
Hared told them that a group of nomads had told him of vehicles seen crossing the desert to the south.
“They told me they were well armed but the trucks were overheating. He said he doubted they got all the way across.”
Dixon nodded. “We’re following them. We need some camels or horses to make the rest of the trip.”
Yusef chuckled and smiled.
“I have some extra camels but I am a businessman so….”
“We have no money,” Dixon said.
“I see, are you on an expedition?”
“Well then, what were you going to find?”
“The Tomb of Kadar.” Dixon answered.
“Where the Scarab is supposed to be located.”
Dixon nodded again.
“Then let us deal.” Yusef smiled, his eyes flashing.
— ♦♦♦ —
They found the truck near dawn. Dixon checked the motor and found it had a cracked head, the radiator empty. The car, on the other hand, had gone on. McFerrin searched the back and found a couple of rifles along with some ammunition. He handed one to Hakeem who loaded it and sighted it. Slowly scanning the horizon until he came to point it at McFerrin.
“What the hell?” McFerrin dropped to a crouch.
“Sorry, just seeing if the sights were good.” Hakeem grinned and slung the rifle over his shoulder.
“Bloody damned Bedouin.” McFerrin walked past Hakeem. Hakeem chuckled.
Dixon was searching the inside of the truck and found blood on the seat. He pointed it out to McFerrin.
“Someone took a bullet,” McFerrin said.
“And it looks like a bad wound. The blood is still fresh.”
“We’re only a few miles from the ridge they were looking for. The car might make it if it doesn’t do as the truck did.” Hakeem nodded toward the south.
“We’ll make camp here and start out again at dusk.”
“I don’t mean to be picky but, do you still have the map you copied?” McFerrin asked.
Dixon held up his foot and pointed. McFerrin grinned and they set up camp.
— ♦♦♦ —
The moon was high and full when they came across the car, the engine still hissing steam. The man inside of it breathing his last. Professor Cromwell groaned as Dixon helped him sit up. His shirt was drenched in blood, his breathing labored, his eyes slightly glazed.
“Easy professor,” Dixon said as he gave him a drink, “not too much.”
“The bastard shot me when I wouldn’t give him the journal. That was right after the truck broke down. He said I was excess baggage then shot me.” Cromwell groaned, arched his back and shuddered.
“Was it Hanes?” Dixon asked.
Cromwell shook his head. “Amon, it was Amon. He and Hanes. They planned to have you take them almost to the ridges and then kill you. That was when Hakeem stood up and looked down when he heard voices. One of the men snuck up on him and knocked him out. They bound and gagged him then took him out in the desert. I told Hanes I would yell if he tried that with me so they forced me at gunpoint into the car and took off. They said without transportation, you wouldn’t follow.”
“They thought wrong.” Dixon watched as the professor sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“They will get a surprise when they get to the tomb.” Cromwell gasped out.
“Why?” Dixon asked.
“It is guarded by traps. All deadly. I didn’t keep that part in the journal.” Cromwell’s hand reached down and pulled up his shirt, a money belt encircled his waist. “The way past them is in here. Find the Scarab Dixon. Find it and….”
Cromwell’s eyes went wide he shuddered, let out a long breath and his eyes glazed. Dixon took his knife and cut the belt loose from Cromwell, then opened it. A small book was inside. Dixon grinned and shoved it in his shirt pocket, told his friends to mount up. They had a score to settle.
— ♦♦♦ —
Shots echoed from somewhere up on the ridge. Men yelled and screamed. Dixon, Hakeem, and McFerrin moved up the path slowly. Hakeem in the lead. Twice, there was the boom of an explosion, the ground shook and debits fell from the ridge. Hakeem stopped and turned to Dixon, motioned up the path then handed him his rifle.
From beneath his robe, he took a long-bladed knife and moved up the path. In a few minutes, he came back, the blade wet and dripping. Hakeem sheathed the blade, took his rifle and started forward again. In a few minutes, they were looking out on a clearing, men lying dead in various places. Jamal’s men.
Four men stood in front of what appeared to be a tomb carved from the rock, the doors white in the moonlight. One was Jamal and one of his men. The other two, Hanes and Amon. Hakeem raised his rifle and started to shoot but Dixon stopped him.
“Wait,” he whispered.
Jamal and his man stepped up to the doors with prybars. The other two stepped back. The clunk of metal on stone sounded in the air along with the grating of the bars as they pried on the doors. After a few minutes, the doors moved, another purchase was made in the crack they had made and both grunted, the door suddenly opening, and the men screamed.
“By Allah,” Hakeem whispered. The men staggered back, screaming and clawing at their faces. In the moonlight, you could see that the flesh was burned. Melted.
“Salt acid.” Dixon said; both men nodded. It was a simple deterrent but effective to the right people. The two remaining, talked for a moment then the bigger of the two walked over and shot the moaning men in the head.
Hakeem raised his rifle and looked at Dixon. Dixon nodded. Hakeem sighted and fired. The bigger of the two went down and before the smaller one could react, Hakeem put a bullet in him. Dixon stood, walked across the clearing and looked down on the two. Amon was dead; Hakeem had put his shot in the man’s head. Hanes had been lucky; Hakeem had hit him in the jaw, the bullet passing through, shattered his teeth and exited the other side. He was alive but out.
Dixon pulled the book out of his pocket that Cromwell had given him, walked up to the door and looked inside. Pitch blackness met his gaze. He turned and motioned toward the bodies.
“We need a light. See if they have one on them.” Hakeem and McFerrin searched the men and came up with a few matches and a lantern. Dixon shook it and satisfied, lit it then stepped inside to doorway.
The tomb wasn’t very big, only a tunnel which led to one room. At the end, he could see the sarcophagus with a couple of chests. Holding the lantern in front of him, he walked a few paces, jogged over, took two steps, then jogged over again and took another. His last jog over put him in the center of the tunnel to which he walked a straight line into the main chamber.
Hakeem and McFerrin followed. All three stood looking at the sarcophagus.
“Cross your fingers,” Dixon whispered and took one of the pry bars from outside and broke the seal. The smell of old cloth and dried flesh touched his nose as he and McFerrin pulled the lid free. In the light, all three gasped, a sapphire as big as one’s fist sparkled in the light. Dixon slowly reached out and grasped it, pulled, then suddenly let go.
There was a rumble in the tomb, coming from deep beneath them. Dixon turned and started to tell them to run when he saw Hanes in the opening, his face a mask of horror as he tried to grin. Hanes lunged forward, knocking McFerrin and Hakeem aside, his hand reaching. Dixon sidestepped him, brought his hand down on the back of his neck and at the same time grabbed the jewel.
Hanes let out a strangled scream as he fell, the floor beneath the sarcophagus crumbling away.
“Run,” Dixon yelled. All three lunged at the entrance, rock and dirt falling around them.
— ♦♦♦ —
Dixon sat at the bar. His hand wrapped around a glass of bourbon. Chief Inspector Baker had cleared them of their charges. They had been watching Hanes and Amon for a while.
“Too bad the gem was lost,” Baker said and grinned.
“Yeah, it was a beauty,” Dixon had answered him as they left the police station. Dixon sipped his bourbon and chuckled. Yusef had paid them a hefty price for the Sapphire; enough that even McFerrin didn’t complain. Hakeem took his pay in goods, silks for his wives and copper pots.
“Hey, Dix.” It was McFerrin who settled on the stool beside him. Dixon looked over at him and nodded.
“Haven’t seen you in a few days,” Dixon said.
“Been busy,” McFerrin answered glancing over his shoulder.
“What the hell have you done now?”
“Look, we need to leave Cairo for a while.”
“Like right today.”
McFerrin was looking at the doorway, two men with curved swords pushed into the bar. Dixon bounced off the stool and as one of them got close, tossed his bourbon in the man’s face. He staggered back into the other one and Dixon made tracks to the back door, McFerrin following.
“Don’t tell me,” Dixon said as they ran down the alley, “a woman.”
“Not just any woman brother, Sheik Mohamed’s virgin daughter.’ McFerrin said and laughed as they made tracks out of the city.
— ♦♦♦ —
In the Newspaper: Part 5. By Bruce Harris, Art by Cesar Valtierra
“In the Newspaper” has it all…greed, corruption, seduction, deceit, and yes…murder. Next week is the exciting conclusion of our first serial. In this conclusion, the question becomes just who knew what? When so much power is at stake, you can’t afford to take any chances. The perfect plan had unraveled quickly and the mess had to be cleaned up before there was major fall-out.