“Cinder, stop that.” Kristi rescued her glass of wine and snuggled down on the sofa. She patted the pillow next to her. “Watch a movie with me?”
The grey tabby scowled at her and, after a moment’s deliberation, leaped to the ground and stalked off.
“Suit yourself,” Kristi called after her. She reached for the remote control and pressed the on button. Melodramatic music played as the title scrolled across the screen. The Curse of the Seven Pyramids. She turned up the volume, took a sip of the wine and put her feet up on the coffee table. It had been a long first day of school with her third-graders, and her eyelids began to sag.
She was drenched in sweat when she woke, and the air was stifling. Arg. The air-conditioning unit must have broken again. I’m going to kill the landlord. I knew finding a cheap repairman on Craigslist was a bad idea.
“Planning to sleep all day, Miss Parker?” At the irate masculine voice her eyes flew open and she sat bolt upright. What the-
Bright sunlight and the outline of someone standing in front of it blurred together, forcing her to squint. She rubbed her eyes.
She had been lying on a hard cot with a thin sheet spread over her. The air was dim and stuffy, and the walls were cave-like, carved out of rough stone. A man stood at the entrance, shadowed against the sunlight. He was tall, lithe, and dressed like Indiana Jones, minus the fedora.
“I don’t know what kind of expedition you’re used to, but here you’ll be expected to rise early and be ready to start work promptly. If you want tea and molly-coddling, go home.”
“But I’m not . . . who . . . I don’t . . .” He frowned at her as she struggled to put together a coherent sentence.
“Hurry up. Don’t forget your pants,” he said and left, picking his way easily down the slope outside.
Kristi pushed her blonde hair back from her sweating face and swung her feet over the side of the cot. They got tangled up in the voluminous white nightgown she was wearing, and she impatiently yanked it free from her legs.
A trunk stood propped open against the wall. She pulled out its contents and threw them on to the cot. Dark skirts. White shirts. High laced boots. Some kind of weird-looking undergarment and the ugliest pants she had ever seen. Her own clothes had vanished.
She sat back on her heels and thought hard about the situation.
Something niggled at the back of her mind. Parker? Where had she heard that name recently?
And for that matter, where was she?
With an aggrieved sigh, Kristi picked up the pants.
The shirt was a little large, but the pants fit snugly around her waist. She found a pair of boots lined up in the corner next to an umbrella. No, not an umbrella. It was too flimsy for that. A parasol? Seriously?
Scowling, she stuffed her feet in the boots and strode towards the entrance of the cave, laces flapping wildly, and stopped dead at the scene spread out in front of her. Now she remembered where she had seen the name Parker before.
Below, several tents were pitched under the protection of the cliffs. The campsite was quiet except for the flapping of an unsecured corner in the breeze, but further down the valley she could just make out a bustle of activity around a dark opening in the rocks.
It was the scene from the opening credits of The Curse of the Pyramids.
But . . . how?
And that meant . . . No . . .
But it had to.
It meant someone was about to die.
And she was the only one who knew.
She stumbled wildly down the slope, landing at the bottom in a heap.
“Miss Parker!” A young man came running out from one of the tents, his sleeves rolled up to the elbow and a pencil stuck behind his ear. He reached down and helped her to her feet. “Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine,” she said, dusting off her pants. “My name isn’t . . . never mind. It’s not important. Look, if you don’t do something, somebody-” she waved towards the people at the other end of the valley. “-is going to die. You’d better warn them.”
“I don’t understand.” He looked bewildered. “Who? How do you know?”
Behind him, she noticed a hand reach out of the other tent and pull back the opening a little, and then vanish again. Weird.
“It’s because of the curse, or something like that.” She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate, but all she could remember was the blurb on the back of the DVD case. “I don’t know who. But if he dies, he won’t be the first one.”
His face relaxed and he smiled. “Come now, Miss Parker. Surely you don’t believe in curses?”
“Of course not, but . . .”
But that didn’t mean curses couldn’t kill in movies. Maybe she was going crazy.
“Anyway, my name isn’t Parker,” she said. He frowned. “It’s Taylor, Kristi Taylor. And I know it sounds weird, but someone really is going to die.”
“But. . .” He ran a hand through his fair hair, perplexed. “Did you hit your head?”
“No. I-” Kristi broke off at what she saw.
Out of the corner of her eye, she had seen the title of the book he was carrying.
Death in a Phial: A Guide to Poisons of All Kinds. She shivered. Maybe the curse was getting a little human assistance.
“I-” The sound of running footsteps interrupted her. A man came tearing into the camp, sweat running down his dark face.
“Mr. Black,” he cried, and broke into a torrent of gasping Arabic.
Of course. Edmund Black was one of the main characters. The foreman, or something like that.
“What’s going on?” she asked when the man stopped for breath.
“Someone’s taken ill.” Edmund disappeared into the tent and emerged with a small black bag…
Work around the excavation site had been abandoned and the group of barefooted men in dirty robes gathered at the foot of the cliff. Kristi followed Edmund past them, an uneasy feeling churning in her stomach.
A man lay in the shade, foam dripping from his mouth, his back arched and his limbs twisted painfully. Someone had thought to loosen his collar, but even so his face was a nasty shade of purple. Edmund knelt and pushed the man’s sleeve up, feeling for a pulse. He shook his head. Nothing.
“Strychnine,” Kristi breathed.
Edmund’s head jerked up. His eyes met hers with a frown.
The man from the cave came striding into the circle, his bare head and arms covered in dust.
“He’s dead, I’m afraid.”
A wave of muttering ran around the group and some of the men shifted uneasily.
“Well, fix the body up so we can send him back to wherever he came from. I’ve told those damned tourists to stay away before. Maybe they’ll listen this time.”
“Geoffrey, really.” Edmund ran his hand through his hair. “I think you should send the men home for the day.
“Don’t be absurd. I’m not wasting a whole day over some damned fool tourist.”
Edmund lowered his voice. “I’m afraid they’ll blame the curse for this.”
“They already do.” A young woman appeared behind Geoffrey, her faced flushed with the heat, tucking wisps of her hair back under her helmet.
“If we tell them to go home now, they’ll think we believe that nonsense.” Geoffrey turned and shouted at the men in Arabic. “Where in the blazes is Alan?” he demanded, striding back towards the cave.
“He’s right, you know,” the woman said, turning to follow him. Edmund sighed.
“Well, I guess we’d better figure out who he is.” Edmund glanced back at Kristi. “By the way, how did you know it was strychnine?”
“Was it?” She remembered the book he had been carrying and bit her lip. “It was just a guess.”
“Can’t tell for sure, but it looks like it.” He bent down and started searching through the man’s pockets.
“Strychnine.” The police sergeant crushed the coroner’s note in his fist moodily. “Says he’ll run the test to confirm, of course, but he thinks there’s little doubt. Damned tourists.” He glanced over at Kristi. “Pardon my language, miss.”
“I was afraid of that,” Edmund said. “Could it have been an accident?”
“It would have been a da—darned queer accident. Strychnine’s not really the sort of thing tourists bring along with them. Do you use it at the excavation?”
“Not this season.”
The sergeant tugged his mustache. “Well, we’ll look into it of course, but I doubt anything will come of it. Lord Davies was a fool, but harmless. Hadn’t an enemy in the world. And his wife was the one with the money, so no dice there. I don’t suppose one of your men has a murderous bent towards interfering, middle-aged Earls?”
Edmund shook his head. “Geoffrey might, but he’d have hit him with a rock or something. Poison isn’t really his style.”
“Too bad. The higher-ups are going to want somebody to hang. It never looks good, having one of the peerage knocked off.”
“We found this in his pocket,” Kristi volunteered, handing him a wrinkled photograph. It was a picture of a young woman. She was standing next to someone, but it had been torn in half and it was impossible to tell anything beyond that it was a man. The sergeant glanced at it and shrugged.
“It’s probably nothing. He was always picking up junk; Had the collector’s mania, but terrible instincts.”
Kristi picked it up and tucked it back into her pocket. She felt positive there was more to it.
He rose, “well, thank you for bringing him in, Mr. Black and Miss–”
Edmund frowned at her. “Parker.”
The sergeant looked bewildered.
Outside, Edmund pulled her across the street, into the shade of an overhanging balcony.
“Ow,” Kristi rubbed her elbow and glared at him.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded.
“You wouldn’t believe me.”
And so, she told him.
“That sounds crazy.”
“It is crazy. Why does everyone think I’m Lillian Parker, anyway? I’m pretty sure I don’t look anything like her.”
He shrugged. “Well, you—she arrived late last night and I don’t think anyone got a good look at her. If this is all true, then where is she?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we switched places or something.”
He sighed. “I told Geoff it was a bad idea to hire you. Her.”
Kristi felt offended on Lillian’s behalf. “Why? I’m sure she’s a perfectly good . . . whatever she is.”
“Expedition artist. Maybe. But it’s bad timing, anyway. Lord Blackstone, our patron, died a few months ago. Nobody’s met his heir yet, and we have no idea if he’s going to keep the dig open. Without his money . . . poof. We’re done for. We’d have to close the dig and go home in the middle of the season.”
“Pardon me.” A voice behind them broke in.
“Pardon me. Mr. Black?”
Startled, Kristi stepped back, dislodging Edmund’s hand from her arm. She flushed.
The man in front of them was beaming, his bulk swaying slightly as he pushed himself up on his toes. Even so, the top of his turban barely came to Kristi’s eyebrows.
He bowed. “I am Abdul Musa. Perhaps you may have heard of me?”
“I have,” Edmund said shortly. “You deal in forgeries.”
“Antiquities. Only the finest in art and antiquities,” he protested.
“Thanks, but we’re not interested,” Edmund replied, taking Kristi’s arm firmly.
“You misunderstand.” The man bounced up and down on his toes and passed a sleeve over his perspiring forehead. “I simply wish to offer my sympathies. Lord Davies, ahem, died this morning, did he not?”
“That’s kind of you, but we didn’t know him personally,” Kristi said.
“But he died at your excavation?”
“Tourists often visit the site,” Edmund shrugged.
“But the curse . . .” Edmund’s hand tightened on her arm, but Abdul broke off. A crafty look came into his eyes and Kristi shivered. “Still, it is a shame. Tell me, did the young lady from England reach your camp safely last night?”
“Young lady?” Edmund asked.
“Yes, she was an artist, I believe.”
“She’s–” Edmund turned toward Kristi, but she stepped on his foot, hard.
“Yes, she did. Did you see her last night?” she asked.
Abdul shrugged and, still smiling, turned and bobbed back down the street.
“What did that mean?” Kristi asked, staring after him.
“Nothing good.” Edmund frowned, rubbing his foot.
. . .
Geoffrey was late in coming back from the excavation site that evening and they sat down to dinner by torchlight. Kristi recognized the young woman sitting across from her from earlier in the day. Edith something-or-other. Edmund seemed to dislike her and Kristi was inclined to agree. Edith was a little too confident, and a little too interested in Geoffrey to endear herself to anyone else.
Alan had finally shown up at the camp late in the afternoon. He came over and took a seat at the far end of the table without a word.
Their cook, Aziah, glided silently over and began placing food on the table.
“Everything squared away, Edmund?” Geoffrey asked. He reached for a bowl and helped himself. The contents were overcooked and mushy beyond recognition. Kristi shuddered and took a piece of bread.
Edmund nodded. “The police took charge of the body.”
“They think he was murdered,” Kristi added, glancing around the table.
Edith raised her eyebrows and Alan stared moodily at his plate. Out of the corner of her eye, Kristi saw Aziah stiffen.
Geoffrey shrugged. “I’m sure they’re overreacting.”
Alan stood up abruptly, turning from the table. “Please, excuse me,” he muttered.
As he brushed past Kristi, the torn photograph fell out of her pocket and floated to the floor. He stooped down and picked it up.
Alan stared at the picture, his face white against the darkness. Without a word, he handed it back to Kristi and left. Her eyes met Edmund’s across the table and he frowned slightly, but no one else appeared to have noticed.
“We start work at six,” Geoffrey shouted at Alan’s retreating back. “And that goes for everyone. Especially you.” He pointed at Kristi with his fork. “You’re both a damned sight behind. There are several paintings that need to be photographed and sketched before we can go any further.”
Kristi squirmed. She had been the despair of her high school art teacher, but that didn’t seem like a disappointment he was going to take well.
“It may be wise to stop work on the tomb,” Aziah said, reaching for one of the empty dishes.
“Why?” Kristi asked.
“The men are nervous.” Aziah’s eyes were dark and troubled above her veil. “There are rumors that the gentleman who died today was the first victim of the curse. They worry one of them may be next.”
“Balderdash,” Geoffrey snorted.
“Some of them speak of finding other work.”
“That’s absurd,” Edith frowned. “Edmund said the man was poisoned.”
“I’m not sure a murderer on the loose is better than a curse,” Edmund said mildly. “But I’ll talk to them after dinner.”
“What is the curse, anyway?” Kristi asked. “Don’t tell me you believe in such nonsense.” Edith raised her eyebrows. “No, I meant . . . What happens if you don’t stop work on the tomb?” “The usual sort of thing,” Geoffrey leaned back in his chair. “The tomb we’re working on is said to be that of a powerful Egyptian priest, so anyone who disturbs his rest will die in terrible agony, etcetera.”
“But there is one odd thing,” Edmund added. “There are supposed to be seven pyramids painted along the walls of the tunnel leading to the burial chamber. The more you’ve found, the closer you are to death, or something like that.”
“We’ve uncovered five so far,” Edith said.
“Perhaps the death today was a warning,” Aziah said quietly.
Geoffrey shrugged. “A warning that those damned tourists ought to stay away from the excavations.”
“But why pyramids?” Kristi asked, chewing on her thumb thoughtfully.
“Yeah. I mean, aren’t Egyptian paintings usually of gods and that sort of thing? Why choose pyramids?”
“Who knows?” Geoffrey said. “The owner of the tomb, whoever he was, must have been a creative bugger. The burial chamber should be interesting.”
“If you reach it.” Aziah’s voice floated out of the darkness and hung in the silence. Kristi shivered. . .
Later that night, Kristi tossed and turned on the narrow cot. The events of the day were bewildering . . . and impossible.
She stood up and pulled a blanket around her shoulders. Outside, the air was heavy and exotic. Above the cliffs a golden moon hung low in the sky.
The sound of footsteps on the path startled her.
The sudden crunch of footsteps on the path echoed loudly in the cliffs. With a lithe bound, Alan slid down the path and landed in front of her.
“Jeez, you scared me,” Kristi said.
“Sorry. I didn’t know it was you.” He shrugged and put his hands in his pockets.
After a moment’s awkward silence, she ventured, “It’s a beautiful night.”
“Guess so.” He shifted his weight, but didn’t leave.
“Well, I’m sure you’re probably used to it. This, I mean. All of this.” She waved her hands towards the cliffs, standing out dark against the moon.
He seemed to make up his mind about something and sat down next to her.
“Not really. It’s my first season. But you’ve been out here before, haven’t you?”
“It doesn’t really matter how many Egyptian moons you see, does it? They’re all so beautiful,” she said vaguely. Ugh. Where did that come from?
Alan turned and studied her, his dark eyes unreadable in the moonlight. He frowned, as though trying to figure something out and Kristi squirmed.
“Where are you from?” she asked, changing the subject.
“England.” He looked out at the cliffs again, his hands resting on his knees. They were nice hands. Strong. Capable.
“You aren’t Lillian Parker, are you?” he asked at last.
“I . . . what?” She looked up, startled.
“You aren’t Lillian Parker?” he repeated. “I don’t know what’s going on, but–”
“That’s ridiculous,” she objected. She and Edmund had agreed it would be safer for her to stay as Lillian, for now, at least.
His eyes narrowed. She lifted her chin and met his challenging gaze.
“Why were you afraid of the picture?” she countered.
“Where did you get it?” he replied, ignoring her question.
He raised his eyebrows.
“In Lord Davies’s pocket,” she said, watching his reaction.
“But that doesn’t–”. He stood up, puzzled, and paced to the edge of the ledge. Abruptly, he strode back and stood in front of her. His face was grim. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but you need to be careful. You may be in more danger than you realize.”
She bit her lip.
“Just . . . be careful,” he repeated and left, disappearing in the direction of the tents.
Abdul Musa arrived at the camp the next morning as they were finishing breakfast, his round face flushed and beaming. It took two native men to tug him off his camel. Geoffrey snorted.
Undeterred, Abdul made a beeline for him and bowed deeply. “Mr. Rushton, most esteemed–” he began.
Geoffrey cut him off. “What do you want?”
Clearly thrown by this, Abdul bowed again. “I, uh . . . I should very much like to speak to Miss Parker.”
“She’s right there,” Geoffrey said briskly, pointing to Kristi.
A confused look came over Abdul’s face.
“Where?” Abdul looked around, puzzled.
But Geoffrey had already left, striding off toward the horses. Abdul picked up the skirts of his robe and started to hurry after him, but Kristi jumped forward and grabbed his arm.
“I can help you,” she said, dragging him off in the direction of the tents. Edmund followed close at their heels.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Edith watching them, her eyes narrowed. Alan had vanished.
When they were out of earshot of the others, Kristi dropped his arm. He stared at her with a half-bewildered, half-wounded expression.
“Why do you need to speak with her . . . uh, me? With me?” she demanded.
“You misunderstand, uh, honored lady,” he said, edging away. “I don’t wish to speak with you. Please, where is Miss Parker?”
Edmund and Kristi exchanged glances.
“She’s not here right now,” Edmund said at last. “Why do you need to speak with her?”
“Nothing important,” he shrugged, spreading his hands. “Just business.”
“It is personal,” he said, pushing himself up on his toes with a look of pious indignation. The feather on his turban tickled Kristi’s nose and she sneezed.
“What kind of personal business could you possibly have with Miss Parker?” Edmund asked skeptically.
“You saw her,” Kristi said suddenly. “Of course. You saw Lillian the night she arrived, didn’t you? Oh!” A thought struck her. “Are you trying to blackmail her?”
Abdul turned red and spluttered. “I . . . certainly never–”
“But what could she have possibly been doing?” Kristi asked.
“Abdul?” Edmund asked.
Edmund’s tone was firm. “What did you see?”
Abdul deflated, his shoulders slumping. “I may,” he allowed, “have seen Miss Parker, talking to the gentleman who was killed, the night before his death.”
“What were they saying?” Kristi asked.
“Abdul,” Edmund said warningly.
“I do not know,” Abdul said obstinately. “I was too far away to hear. The city is noisy at night, and me, I am an honest man. I do not listen to other people’s conversations.”
With that, he turned and slunk back to his camel.
“Sure,” Kristi said under her breath.
Alan came out of one of the tents and stood, watching Abdul go.
“Perhaps we should–” Edmund broke off, following Kristi’s gaze. Seeing Alan, he scowled.
“The gentleman, he leaves already?” The voice at Kristi’s elbow startled her. How long had Aziah been standing there?
“Oh, he had to get back,” Kristi said vaguely.
“He is not a very nice man,” Aziah observed.
“I rather think not,” Edmund said.
“Miss Parker. Edmund. Hurry up!” Geoffrey called.
Crap. She had forgotten all about having to go to the excavation today.
“Edmund, I really can’t–”
“What in the blazes is taking you so long?” Geoffrey appeared around the side of the tent.
At the sound of muffled hoof beats approaching the camp, Geoffrey scowled. “This is turning into a damned four-ring circus. I’ll be at the site if you need me.”
He disappeared in the direction of the tomb.
“Come on,” Edmund said. “What in the blazes does Abdul want now?”
But it wasn’t Abdul, thankfully. When they rounded the side of the tent, the police sergeant had already dismounted.
“Miss,” he said to Kristi with a nod, taking off his hat and wiping his forehead. His face was red and his mustache drooped in the heat.
Bareheaded, with his shirtsleeves rolled up, Edmund looked cool and unruffled in comparison. “How can we help you, Sergeant?”
“I’d like to talk to one of your men.” He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and consulted it. “An Alan Wright.”
“That’s odd,” Kristi blurted out. She bit her lip as he looked at her, confused.
“Alan went out to the site already. We were just about to walk over there, if you want to come along,” Edmund said.
“Can I leave him here?” He jerked his head towards his horse.
“Farid?” Edmund called. A barefoot boy wearing a tattered robe and an enormous grin scampered over. Edmund said something in Arabic, and the boy nodded and reached for the reins.
. . .
Geoffrey emerged from the tomb as they approached, wiping his hands on his pants.
“Geoff, the sergeant is here looking for Alan,” Edmund called out. Geoffrey pointed to a path winding up the cliff face.
“He’s up there.”
With a nod of thanks, the sergeant wiped his forehead again and headed up the path.
“Where’s your sketchbook?” Geoffrey asked, turning to Kristi.
“I, uh.” Crap.
“I have an extra one you can borrow,” Edith said, coming up behind them briskly.
“Thanks.” Kristi made a face at her retreating back as she followed her into the tomb.
A half an hour later, Edmund appeared and lowered himself to the ground next to her.
He looked disheveled in the dim light. “Miss Taylor–”
“Kristi,” she corrected.
“Very well. Kristi. I’ve been—Good lord, what is that?”
He had caught sight of her drawing. It was a mess of smudges from the sweat that ran down her forehead and dripped onto the paper. She hadn’t thought it was that bad. In fact, she was kind of proud of it. Minus the smudges, of course.
“Never mind,” she glowered at him and crossed her legs, hugging the sketchbook to her chest. “I’ve been thinking.”
“So have I,” he broke in. He looked around and lowered his voice. “Look. Whoever poisoned Lord Davies must have been with the expedition. I’ve talked to some of the men, and there was no one else here at the time.”
“Who do you think it was?” she asked, watching him closely. He had been carrying a book on poisons the first time she met him, after all.
“Wait. Shh. Do you hear that?” She cut him off, holding up her hand.
Kristi slipped toward the entrance, pressing herself against the wall as Alan the sergeant came striding down the path, past the tomb. Edmund’s breath on the back of her neck tickled.
“I can’t see,” he whispered. “What is it?”
“Shhh,” she said.
“I appreciate your help,” the sergeant was saying. “We’ll be on the lookout.”
“Let me know if you find anything.” Alan shook his hand.
“We will,” he said, turning and walking in the direction of the camp.
“What was that all about?” Edith appeared beside Alan, dusting off a shard of pottery with her fingers.
Alan shrugged. “Nothing important.”
“Really? That’s a long ride to make for nothing.”
One of the men came hurrying up, interrupting them. “Mister Wright, I was looking for the–”
As he reached them, the sound of a gunshot echoed sharply against the cliffs. Edith and Alan ducked. With a surprised look on his face, the man sank down, falling slowly onto his face, a patch of red blossoming against the back of his dirty robe.
Edmund pushed her out of the way and ran towards the man. Kristi hesitated a moment and then crawled after him, keeping as close to the ground as she could. Alan had pulled out a gun and was crouched behind a rock, scanning the cliffs. Edmund crouched over the prostrate man, feeling for a pulse.
“He’s gone.” He shook his head.
“Then get back,” Alan waved at them. Edmund released the man and pulled Kristi behind a rock.
“Ow,” she complained, rubbing her elbow. “Geez.”
“What in the blazes happened?” Geoffrey called from somewhere above them.
“Malik was shot,” Edmund called back.
Geoffrey came bounding down the path, ignoring Edith’s shouting at him to stay back. Kristi held her breath, but the cliffs remained silent. Some of the men followed him cautiously, breaking into a low, keening wail when they saw the fallen body.
“We should divide up and look for the shooter,” Alan said.
Geoffrey nodded. He addressed the men in Arabic, and then turned back to them. “Alan and Edmund, you take the far side of the valley. Miss Parker and Miss Davis, stay here.”
“We’re coming,” Kristi and Edith said at the same time. Edith gave her a small smile.
“No, you’re not,” Geoffrey said.
Kristi glowered at him, and then turned and marched in the direction she thought the shot had come from.
“Come on, Edith.” The other girl hesitated, looking back at Geoffrey.
“Suit yourself.” With an annoyed scowl, he turned and headed in the opposite direction.
“Wait,” Edmund sighed and hurried to catch up with her. “Miss Davis, you go with Alan. Miss Parker can come with me.”
“Fine,” Kristi shrugged.
“Whew,” Kristi said, wiping her forehead with her sleeve. Edmund turned back to help her up the last few feet of the path, but she waved his hand aside and clambered up next to him.
Below them, the men clustered around Malik’s body like ants, the cliffs behind them shimmering a little in the heat. She could see all the way down the valley, and in the far distance, a sparkling thread winding its way along the horizon.
“That’s the Nile,” Edmund said, following her gaze.
“Wow.” The shiver of excitement that she felt was quickly replaced by a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach. How could she be seeing it seventy years before she had even been born? Or was this still just the movie? Being stuck, well, wherever she was, was a frightening idea. What if her parents had already found out she was missing?
“Kristi? Are you okay?” Edmund put out a hand to steady her, and she realized her legs were shaking.
“I’m fine.” She sank down on a boulder, her eyes suddenly filling with tears.
He raised his eyebrows.
“It’s just . . . what if I can never get back?”
He handed her a mostly clean handkerchief and sat down next to her, his shoulder reassuringly steady against hers. “Get back where?”
“Back home. Out of . . . whatever this is.”
“The expedition? Or Egypt?”
“Just . . . all of this. Is it even real? Are you real?”
He looked at her with a smile that caused her to blush and drop her gaze in confusion. “Very.”
Something crumpled up at the base of the rock caught her eye. Curious, Kristi reached down to pick it up and smoothed it out on her knee.
“What is it?” Edmund asked.
“Part of a photograph from a newspaper, I think,” she said, studying it. “I wonder?”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out the half of the photograph from Lord Davies’ pocket. It matched perfectly.
The new half was too smudged to make out the man’s face, but something about him looked vaguely familiar to Kristi.
“Could someone have shot that man from here?” she asked.
“I doubt it,” Edmund said, getting up and walking over to the edge. “Maybe from further down the path, if he’s a really good shot.”
“This must have fallen out of his pocket on his way down.”
“It could have been dropped by anyone,” he objected. “We don’t know that the shot came from this direction.”
“It would be too weird a coincidence,” she insisted. “There has to be a connection.”
“Well, I suppose he could have come from the other side of the cliffs, further down the valley,” he said doubtfully.
“Of course! Come on,” Kristi said, heading back down the path. “I hope Geoffrey thought to send someone after the sergeant.”
“Find anything?” the sergeant asked.
“Not a damned thing. You’re taking the body? That’s going to upset the family.”
“Can’t be helped. We’ll have to do an autopsy. Got to follow procedure, you know. But I’ll see to it personally that we have him back to his family as soon as we can.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
The sergeant took out a notebook and flipped it open. “Now, I just need to get a few details from you.”
“Were you there when he was shot?”
Geoffrey shook his head. “I was in another tomb, above the excavation site, when it happened. I heard the shot, but I didn’t see anything.”
“We saw it.” Edith came up behind them, Alan trailing after her. She pulled off her gloves and shoved them into her back pocket.
“What happened, exactly?”
She shrugged. “We were standing there, talking, when Malik came running up. And then he was shot.”
“Did the victim appear to be frightened or upset?”
“Not at all.”
“I see.” The sergeant tapped the pencil against his mustache thoughtfully. “I’d like to see where everyone was. Here, this tent can be the entrance to the tomb. Where were you two?”
“I was about here,” Edith said. “And Alan was next to me, here.”
“Good,” the sergeant said approvingly. “And where was the victim? Geoffrey, you stand in for him.”
“Right about there,” Edith said. “No, a little further to the right, I think. Yes, that’s it.”
“Do you agree?” The sergeant turned to Alan, who nodded.
“Now, what happened then?”
“We heard a shot, and he fell forward onto his face. There was a bloodstain on his back.”
“Hmm.” The sergeant walked several paces behind them, studying the tableau. “You didn’t see where the shot came from?”
“I didn’t,” Edith said. “And the sound echoed off the cliffs, so it was really impossible to be certain.”
“Well, it couldn’t have come from further up the cliff, or from that side, or he would have shot one of you instead. That leaves us with this direction as the most likely one.” He studied them again. “You said that the victim ran up?”
“Yes, quite quickly,” Edith said.
“I wonder? What if he just got in the way?”
He and Alan exchanged looks.
“But then the killer was after one of us.” Edith shivered. “Why would anyone want to kill one of us?”
“Was anyone else with you?” the sergeant asked.
“Miss Parker and Edmund were in the tomb. They both came running out after the shot.” Alan said. “But there was no way anyone could have hoped to hit either one of them inside the tomb,” Edith pointed out. “Speaking of Miss Taylor and Edmund, where in the blazes are they?” Geoffrey asked. He raised his voice. “Aziah, have they returned to camp?” Aziah appeared from behind one of the tents. “No, Mr. Rushton.”
Meanwhile . . .
“Be careful.” Edmund held out his hand to steady Kristi as she slipped on a loose stone. It skittered off the ledge, knocking a small shower of pebbles loose.
A shot rang out, echoing against the cliffs.
“In here.” Edmund pulled her across the ledge and into a cave. They ducked as another shot hit the ground outside, sending up a splatter of pebbles and dirt.
“That was close,” Kristi said, watching the mouth of the cave.
Edmund didn’t reply. When she glanced back at him, his face was white, and a dark stain spread across his shoulder. “You’re hit.”
“Yes,” he said through gritted teeth.
She made him sit down and carefully peeled off the shoulder and sleeve of his shirt. It looked like the bullet had gone clean through his shoulder, but it was still bleeding.
“Hold still,” she said, carefully tearing the sleeve off his shirt and binding up the wound. “There, that should help. It really ought to be disinfected, though.”
“Thanks.” He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.
“Maybe I should go for help,” she said, cautiously edging toward the mouth of the cave. Another shot smacked into the face of the cliff, just to the right of where she was pressed against the wall.
“Don’t,” Edmund said, struggling to stand up. “Come on. We’d better go further in, just in case he gets tired of waiting and comes looking for us.”
“Or she,” Kristi said, pulling a small flashlight out of her pocket and switching it on.
The back of the cave opened into a tunnel and about a hundred or so yards along it, Edmund decided they had gone far enough. Kristi sank down, her back against the wall.
They both sat quietly for a time, but except for their breathing, the tunnel was silent.
After a while, Edmund stirred. “Geoff’s not going to be happy.”
“You mean, because we’re trapped in a cave by a homicidal maniac? ‘Cause it’s not really something we can help.”
Edmund smiled weakly. “All those accidents . . . Even if the men agree to come back to work, whoever the new Lord Blackstone is may decide to close down anyway. Can’t say I would blame him.”
“Well, I — hey, look. Isn’t that one of those pyramids?” She focused her flashlight on the opposite wall. “It looks like the one Edith showed me earlier.”
The sound of footsteps echoed in the passage, and they both froze. Kristi switched off her flashlight and Edmund dragged himself painfully to his feet.
A man rounded the curve and Kristi turned the flashlight back on, aiming for his eyes.
“Ouch,” a familiar voice said, as the figure threw his arm up to shield his face. “Kristi? Edmund?”
“How did you find us?” Kristi asked.
“Edmund dropped his hat outside the cave. What are you doing in here?”
“Someone was shooting at us,” Kristi said.
Alan shrugged. “Well, there’s no one out there now. Come on, I’ll help you back.”
By the time they got Edmund back to camp and bandaged up properly, his face was pale.
“You should go lie down,” Kristi said.
“I’ll be fine with a stiff whiskey and soda,” he said, gritting his teeth. Geoffrey poured him one and slid it across the table. He drained it, and Geoffrey poured him another one.
“You are not fine,” Kristi said indignantly.
Edmund ignored her. “We need to figure out what’s going on,” he said, looking around the table.
“It’s the curse,” Aziah said quietly from where she gathering up the dirty bandages.
“Nonsense,” Edith said.
Muttering darkly, Aziah left, a bandage fluttering ominously behind her like a bedraggled feather. Kristi shivered.
“Show them what we found,” Edmund told Kristi.
She hesitated a moment. She still wasn’t entirely convinced that one of the members of the expedition hadn’t been responsible for the murders. Okay, not directly, of course. They had all been there when Malik was killed. But it could have been arranged.
Edmund frowned at her. Kristi reluctantly reached into her pocket and pulled out the half of the picture, watching their faces closely. None of them registered anything other than a mild curiosity, except for Edmund, who was watching the others as closely as she was.
“We found it at the top of the cliff,” he said.
“It’s the other half of the picture we found in Lord Davies’ pocket,” she added.
Alan picked it up to get a better look and shrugged. As he handed it back to Kristi, his fingers slipped and the photograph fell to the ground.
“Sorry,” he said, picking it up and dusting it off.
“Careful.” Kristi rescued it from him, but his fingers had already clumsily smudged the picture. She rubbed it gently, but it was almost impossible to make out the person’s face now.
“Maybe Lord Davies climbed up there for some reason, before he died,” Edith said.
Kristi shook her head. “There was a pretty strong wind that night; it would have been blown away.”
“Besides, he wasn’t really in any shape to be climbing like that, even before he was poisoned,” Edmund pointed out. “Plus, if the killer was a good shot, he had a clear view of the excavation site from there.”
“Or she,” Kristi added.
They all turned to look at her. “Not likely,” Geoffrey said.
Kristi scowled back at him.
“It’s all very strange,” Edith said. “I mean, maybe someone killed Lord Davies for his money, or something, but why would anyone kill Malik? He’s harmless, and he certainly had no money.”
Aziah broke in to announce stiffly that dinner was ready.
. . .
Later that evening, Kristi realized she had dropped her flashlight somewhere along their trip back the campsite. She grabbed a flashlight from the storage tent and retraced her steps.
When she got close to the excavation site, she noticed a light bobbing along the entrance to the cave.
Kristi switched off her flashlight. Clouds scudded across the moon, and for a moment there was complete darkness.
Then the light appeared again, bobbing around the entrance to the tomb. That was odd. No one had mentioned planning to visit the excavation site tonight.
Gripping her flashlight tightly, she crept toward the tomb. The person had gone inside by the time she reached the entrance. Flattening herself against the wall, she peered inside . . .
. . . and almost screamed as someone clapped a hand across her mouth and dragged her back. Heart pounding, she twisted and stomped on the person’s foot, hard.
“Damn,” Edmund said, stumbling backwards. “That hurt.”
“What are you doing?” Kristi hissed. “You scared me to death.”
“What are you doing, creeping around? Shouldn’t you be in bed by now?”
“You’re the one with the gunshot wound, you should be in bed. Besides, I asked first.” In the dim light of the moon, she could see Edmund glaring at her. “Fine, I dropped my flashlight this afternoon, and I was looking for it. Who–”
She paused as a few pebbles bounced off the cliff and landed at their feet. They both looked up at the path winding its way above them, a pale smudge in the moonlight.
“He heard us,” Edmund kicked at the pebbles.
He shrugged. “It wasn’t someone I recognized.”
“Would I know him? What did he look like?”
“Dark skin, medium height and weight, and he had a beard. He was wearing a robe and turban, but no shoes, though.”
Kristi chewed her lip impatiently. That didn’t help much. “What was he doing?”
“It was hard to tell. Looking for something, maybe?”
“Come on,” Edmund said, holding out his hand. “We’d better go. I’m sure he won’t be back tonight.”
. . .
“Well, we’re much obliged for your help,” the sergeant said as he showed them to the door the next morning. “We’ll let you know if we find anything. In the meantime, be careful.”
“We will,” Kristi said. As they turned to go, she caught sight of Abdul, crossing the street. He pushed himself up on his toes and looked around suspiciously. He seemed satisfied with what he saw. After adjusting the feather on his turban, he slipped through a doorway and disappeared.
The sergeant followed her gaze. “A friend of yours?”
She shook her head. “We met him a few days ago.”
“He’s a rum one. I wouldn’t get mixed up with him if I could help it. Not that we’ve been able to prove anything yet, but . . .” He raised his eyebrows significantly.
“Art forgery?” Kristi asked.
“Among other things.”
He shrugged. “Smuggling. Blackmail. Prostitution, probably. None of the locals will cooperate with us though, so it’s hard to get proof.”
Abdul popped back out of the house and continued down the street, a pleased look on his face. Kristi shivered.
“Come on,” Edmund said. “Let’s get something to eat.”
The terrace of Bernard’s was shady and cool, dotted with tubs of exotic trees and brightly colored English flowers; roses, petunias and marigolds. They found an empty table and ordered lunch.
In the street below them, a car horn blared. The driver’s head popped out and swore loudly at the camels blocking the road, but they just looked at him and sniffed lazily. As the driver struggled with the door handle, the camel’s driver pulled out a stick and drove them slowly to the other side.
Kristi wrinkled her nose.
“It smells–” she broke off as she noticed Alan sitting with his back to them, half-hidden behind a potted tree. A large man with a red face and expensive suit sat across from him, but they were speaking too quietly for her to hear.
“What?” Edmund asked, twisting around.
“Don’t look,” Kristi hissed. “It’s Alan, talking to someone.”
“Don’t you think that’s kind of suspicious? I mean, I know this is his first season here. How would he know anyone yet?”
He leaned towards her. “Why are we whispering?”
“I don’t want him to notice us. Here, edge your chair back and see if you can hear what they’re saying.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Edmund, come on!”
“It’s probably just someone he knows from England. People vacation here all the time.”
Drat. Okay, that did make sense. Kristi sighed.
As the waiter delivered their food, the man sitting across from Alan got to his feet. “I’ll be in touch, Lord Blackstone,” he said.
Edmund froze, his fork halfway to his mouth.
Alan stiffened and glanced around. He caught sight of Kristi, who dropped her napkin and ducked under the table.
Lord Blackstone. That sounded vaguely familiar.
She sat up and kicked Edmund under the table. “What’s wrong?” she whispered.
“Miss . . . Parker. Edmund.” Kristi looked up to find Alan standing over them.
“Hi,” she said. “Um, want to join us?”
But he was already pulling another chair up to the table. He straddled it and looked at them through narrowed eyes. “How much did you overhear?”
“Everything,” Kristi said, ignoring Edmund’s glare. Maybe if he thought they already knew . . .
“Only what that man just said,” he corrected. Kristi kicked him again, but missed and smacked her foot against the chair leg. Ouch. He raised his eyebrows.
“So you’re the new Lord Blackstone,” Edmund said.
He shifted uncomfortably. “Yes, the late Lord Blackstone was my uncle.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Who’s Lord Blackstone?” Kristi interrupted.
“Lord Blackstone is–was, the expedition’s patron. We knew he died a few months ago, but we didn’t know who the heir was,” Edmund explained.
Alan shrugged. “I wanted to see if the dig was worth keeping open.”
“I haven’t decided yet. It seems like it may be more trouble than it’s worth. But look, I want this to remain a secret.”
A faint ringing interrupted them, and out of habit, Kristi started searching through her pockets. When she realized the telephone was inside the hotel she looked up to find Edmund and Alan watching her curiously.
“Looking for something?” Edmund asked.
“A . . . um . . . I lost my handkerchief, I think.”
Alan pulled a crumpled one out of his pocket and handed it to her.
Ugh. Kristi took it gingerly with her fingertips and tucked it into her pocket. “Uh, thanks.”
“Aren’t you going to use it?” Edmund asked.
“Um, later. I just wanted to make sure that I, uh, had one. In case.”
Alan shook his head and stood up. “I have to get back to camp.” He disappeared in the direction of the street.
“Oh, no.” Edmund said, ducking his head.
“Mrs. Carrington. She was an acquaintance of my father’s.”
Kristi twisted in her seat. A large, sweating woman in a too-tight crimson dress was waving at them from across the terrace. Edmund sighed. “I’d better go say hello.”
Kristi sat chewing meditatively on her sandwich, watching the crowds below them when someone slid into the chair opposite her.
“Nice view.” He had an attractive, freckled face and a sun-burnt nose.
“Uh-huh.” She swallowed the last bite of her sandwich and stood up. “You can have the table. I have to go.”
“Wait.” He caught her by the wrist. “Look, I know this might sound kind of crazy . . .”
Kristi tugged away, and he dropped her wrist. “Were you looking for a cell phone? Before?”
She sat back down in the chair, hard. “How did you–”
“–know?” He held out his hand and she automatically shook it. “Carl Andrews. I used to live in Brighton, New Hampshire. 2010.”
“Kristi, uh, Taylor. I’m from Nebraska.”
“Let me guess. It must be about, 2013 by now?”
“Longer than I thought. How did you end up here?”
“Watching a movie.” Kristi absently brushed a flyaway hair back from her face. “The Curse of the Seven Pyramids.”
“Ah. Mine was The Curse of the Undead Mummy.”
“That sounds awful.”
“Believe me, it was.”
“Kristi, I think we’d better be getting back.” She looked up to see Edmund at her elbow, scowling at Carl.
“It was nice meeting you.” Carl pushed back the chair and stood up.
“Wait,” Kristi said, but he strode lightly down the terrace and vanished.
“Who was that?” Edmund asked.
Kristi didn’t answer.
. . .
Later that evening, Kristi, Edith and Edmund played cards while Geoffrey growled over a stack of papers on his desk. Finally he threw the papers down and leaned back.
“I wish I knew if Lord Blackstone is planning on keeping the dig open the rest of the season,” he said.
“Why don’t you ask him?” Kristi said, without looking up from the cards.
“Yeah. I know he’s gone to bed now, but you can ask him in the morning.” Edmund kicked her under the table and she looked up to find Aziah, Edith and Geoffrey staring at her.
“Now you’ve done it,” Edith said under her breath. Kristi’s head jerked up.
“How do you–”
“Know?” Edith shrugged. “Some letters addressed to him got mixed in with mine. I put two and two together and . . .”
“Got a wealthy man masquerading as an expedition photographer,” Edmund said.
“Oh, not masquerading. His credentials are real enough.”
“What the blazes is–” A loud banging on the front door interrupted Geoffrey. They heard it open, and a moment later Aziah entered the room, followed closely by Abdul Musa.
He bounced up to Geoffrey and bowed. Kristi noticed he was sweating, and his hands were shaking a little.
“I apologize for disturbing you so late, Mr. Rushton. But I really must speak to Miss Parker.”
Geoffrey pointed to the table. “Knock yourself out.”
Abdul looked over at them, a too-bright smile still plastered on his face. “Please, where is Miss Parker?”
“I’ll–” Edmund started to say, but Edith cut him off.
“Miss Parker?” She said, her eyebrows raised.
Kristi buried her face in her hands.
“I don’t understand,” Abdul said, bewildered.
Edith narrowed her eyes. “Looks like there might be more than one case of mistaken identity here.”
“What do you want with Miss Parker?” Edmund asked.
Abdul’s fingers fidgeted with his snow-white robe nervously. As he did, a scrap of paper fell out of his pocket and drifted toward the floor. Geoffrey picked it up.
He sat up and looked at it closely. “Where did you get this?” he demanded. The others crowded around him, peering over his shoulder. It was a sketch of the pyramid symbol they had been finding at the excavation. The one that was supposed to be cursed.
“It is a symbol of the Hela tribe,” Aziah said in a low voice behind them.
“Who are they?” Kristi asked.
Aziah spread her hands. “A local tribe. Master thieves, like many in Egypt. They put the curse on the place you are digging in now.”
“Thieves,” Geoffrey said. “So there’s nothing left in the burial chamber then.”
“If they reached it,” Aziah shrugged.
Geoffrey crumpled up the piece of paper and tossed it down on the desk. Abdul looked pained. He picked it up, smoothed it out carefully and put it back in his pocket.
“Look, it’s getting late,” Geoffrey said, shoving his chair away from the desk and standing up. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but we can sort it out in the morning.”
Abdul shifted uneasily.
“I’m sure you should be getting back.” Geoffrey propelled him firmly toward the door, but Abdul broke his grip and stood behind Kristi. “I, uh . . .”
“What do you want, Abdul?” Edmund asked.
“I thought perhaps, uh, that if it was not too much of a bother I might stay the night.”
“Absolutely not,” Geoffrey strode over, seized him by the arm and pulled him to the door. He opened it and gave the art dealer a firm shove. “You can come back in the morning if you have to, Mr. Musa.”
Abdul showed up again the next morning, while Edmund and Kristi were finishing breakfast. Geoffrey and Edith had gotten an early start at the excavation site, and Alan hadn’t put in an appearance yet. Aziah showed Abdul into the room.
“Good morning, Mr. Black. Miss–” He hesitated for a moment and then bowed deeply.
“Mr. Musa.” Edmund nodded. “Would you like some coffee?”
“No, thank you.” Abdul caught sight of the torn photograph Kristi had smoothed out on the table, and leaned toward it, almost tipping over in the process.
Kristi pulled out the chair next to her and he sat down.
“Do you know who they are?” she asked. He looked at her oddly.
“That’s Miss Parker,” he said, pointing at the woman. “Don’t you recognize her?”
“Never mind,” Edmund said. “Look, Abdul, if you overheard something, you might be in considerable danger.”
Abdul looked offended and drew himself up. “As I told you before, I do not listen–”
“Did you see anything?” Kristi interrupted.
A crafty look came into his eyes. “Perhaps,” he allowed.
“What did–” But at that moment, Geoffrey banged open the door. Abdul jumped up and scuttled out the front door as quickly as he could.
“Are you two coming?” Geoffrey demanded as he strode to his desk and rifled through the papers lying on top.
“We’re almost finished,” Edmund said. “I thought you were at the site.”
“I was, but I had to come back for this.” He pulled a piece of paper covered in scribbles, out of a drawer and tucked it into the front of his shirt. “Hurry up. And bring Alan with you.”
While Edmund went to look for Alan, Kristi ran up to her cave to grab an extra handkerchief. As she fished around in the trunk, something crinkled under a pile of shirts. Curious, she pulled out a photograph and a packet of letters, tied with a ribbon.
The photograph was the original of the torn one. It was much clearer, and Kristi realized, with a start, that she recognized the man in the picture.
She untied the ribbon and rifled through the letters. They were addressed to Lillian Parker in an unfamiliar masculine script. She hesitated for a moment, but curiosity won out. After all, I am her. Sort of.
Picking up the first one, she pulled the letter out of the envelope and unfolded it carefully.
My dear Lillian,
Father is recovering well. If he is careful to avoid stress, the doctor thinks he may be with us for several more years, thank God.
As soon as he is back on his feet, I will tell him and Mother of our engagement.
She skimmed quickly through the rest of the letter until she came to the end.
All my love, Alan
Thinking furiously, she sat back on her heels. As she did so, another letter, written in a different, untidy hand fell out of the pile.
Kristi picked up the letter and unfolded it.
My dear goddaughter,
If I can be of assistance, I am happy to do what I can. I cannot imagine why you feel this sudden interest in helping those in the local jail, but I will set you up with a contact when you arrive.
Of course. That’s how Lillian would have . . . the details were still a little fuzzy, but Kristi had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Grabbing the letters, she jumped to her feet.
She ran into Edmund at the bottom of the cliff.
“The sergeant just sent word,” he said, falling into step beside her. “They think they’ve caught the man who shot Lord Davies and Musa.”
They found him sitting on a boulder a little distance from the camp, reading a letter. When he saw them, he folded it up and shoved it in his pocket.
Kristi tripped over a rock, spilling the letters everywhere. She scrambled to pick them up and handed them to Alan.
“You’re engaged to Lillian, aren’t you?”
“I was,” he said shortly.
“Why did you break it off?”
“It has nothing to do with you.”
“But she’s the one who’s causing all this trouble, isn’t she? Or was. I’m not really clear on that.”
“She is?” Edmund asked.
“I don’t know exactly how yet, but I’ll bet she’s the one behind that man the police arrested. Like, she hired him or something. She must hate you a lot.”
Alan frowned. “She did, but that’s not why she’s trying to have me killed.”
“What money?” Edmund asked.
“Mine. Well, really, my father’s and now mine.”
“But if you aren’t married, why was she trying to kill you? She wouldn’t inherit the money.”
“Actually, she would. She’s my second cousin, and the only other member of my father’s side of the family.”
“Second cousin? Ew.” Kristi made a face.
“It’s not that unusual.”
“Is that why you didn’t marry her?”
“I thought she had something to do with my father’s death. The doctor was surprised that he died as soon as he did, and, well, I knew she was itching to be Lady Blackstone. I confronted her and she denied it, of course, but I don’t know.” He shrugged.
“Where is she now?” Kristi asked.
“Who knows? Maybe wherever you came from?”
“If I’ve taken her place,” Kristi shivered, “Does that mean that you ought to have me arrested?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Edmund frowned.
. . .
Later that night, Kristi had a strange dream. She was standing in front of her apartment, her hand on the doorknob, when she hesitated. After a moment, she pulled her hand back, and the dream faded away.
Waking up, she wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and went out onto the ledge. Below her, she could just make out Edmund’s shape against the moonlit sky, as he climbed the trail.
With a smile, she went to meet him.