Read F Paul Wilson - Novel 03 Online

Authors: Virgin (as Mary Elizabeth Murphy) (v2.1)

F Paul Wilson - Novel 03 (3 page)

BOOK: F Paul Wilson - Novel 03
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This is wonderful, he thought. Our family will
be rich, and Nabil and I will be famous.

           
He saw the hand of Allah in this,
rewarding him for his daily prayers, his fasting, and his strict observance of
Holy Days. He turned and faced south, toward
Mecca
, and said a silent prayer of thanksgiving.
Then he looked at the moon, thanking Allah for making it full tonight.

           
But the prayer choked in his throat
and he nearly dropped the treasure in his arms when he noticed a figure
standing atop the far cliff they had skirted to reach this canyon. Silhouetted
against the moonlit sky, it seemed to be watching him. For a moment he was
transfixed with fear, then he heard Nabil behind him. He turned to see his
brother stepping over the rubble before the cave mouth.

           
 
"Nabil!"

           
 
His brother looked up and stumbled, but caught
himself before he fell.

           
 
"What
is
it?" he said between his teeth.

           
 
"Up on the cliff . . ." Achmed
turned to look and saw that the upper edge of the cliff was now empty. The
sentinel figure had vanished.

           
 
"What?" Nabil said, the irritation
mounting in his tone. "Finish what you begin!"

           
 
"Nothing."

           
 
"Then why are you standing there like a
blind camel? Move! We'll take these back to the donkey then search the cave for
more."

           
 
They had just reached the donkey and were
laying their treasures in the sand when Achmed heard something. He lifted his
head and listened. A low hum. No. . . a pulsating
thrum.

           
 
"Tayya'ra!"
he cried.

           
 
Nabil leapt into motion.

           
 
"Quickly! The scrolls! Bundle them
up!"

           
 
They pulled the blankets they had brought,
wrapped the urns in them, then slung them over the donkey's back.

           
 
"Let's go!"

           
 
"What about the metal?" Achmed
cried.

           
 
"Forget the metal! We have a far greater
treasure! But if the Israelis find us, they'll steal it! Hurry!"

           
 
With Nabil pulling from the front and Achmed
again switching from behind, they drove the donkey down the bank and across the
wadi. As they slipped around the leading edge of the outcrop, the sound of the
helicopter grew louder.

           
 
"It could be anywhere down there,"
the copilot said.

           
 
Kesev stared below, watching the bright beam
of the searchlight lance the darkness and dance along the peaks, plateaus, and
crevasses that dominated this area of the Wilderness. They had been running a
crisscrossing search pattern for thirty minutes now.

           
 
"Keep going," he said.

           
 
"I think we can be pretty sure no one was
hurt by this thing," the pilot said after a few more minutes of searching.
"Maybe we'd better put this off, come back when it's light and—"

           
 
"Keep going," Kesev said. He was
getting the lay of the land now. "Follow this canyon south."

           
 
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the pilot
and copilot exchange glances and discreet shrugs, but neither challenged his
authority.

           
 
The canyon widened below them, and then the
search beam picked up white wisps trailing through the air.

           
 
"Smoke!" the copilot cried.

           
 
"Turn off the search beam," Kesev
said.

           
 
As soon as the beam died, tiny flickers of
light became visible on the canyon floor.

           
 
"Down there," Kesev said. "It exploded
on the canyon floor."

           
 
He released a soft sigh of relief. A glance to
his left at the top of the east wall of the canyon reassured him that the
Resting Place
was untouched.

           
 
Close, he thought. Too close.

           
 
And then he remembered that the canyon floor
had its own secrets.

           
 
"Let's have the light again," he
said. "See if we can find the point of impact."

           
 
It took less than a minute.

           
 
"There!" the copilot said. "At
two o'clock
. Looks like it took out part of the cliff
wall too."

           
 
Kesev went rigid in the seat. The SCUD crater
was right where the cave had been—-still was. Had the explosion—?

           
 
"Take us down."

           
 
"Sir, we've accomplished our
objective," the pilot said. "We've found the impact sight and
determined that there's been no personal injury or property damage, so—"

           
 
"Land this thing now," Kesev said
softly, just loud enough to be heard over the engine noise, "or you'll
spend the rest of your career working a broom handle instead of that
joystick."

           
 
The pilot turned. For a heartbeat or two he stared
at Kesev from within the confines of his flight helmet, then took the copter
down.

           
 
As soon as the wheels touched earth, Kesev was
out of his harness. He pulled off his flack jacket—he didn't need it, had only
worn it because of regulations—and reached for the hatch handle.

           
 
"Stay here and train the search beam on
the crater," Kesev said. "This will only take a minute."

           
 
He opened the hatch and ran in a crouch
through the hurricane from the whirling blades, following the path of the
search beam. He cursed as he neared the crater for he saw that the cave had
been exposed by the blast. What abysmal luck!

           
 
On the other hand, how fortunate that he'd
obeyed his instincts and come along to check this out personally. As a result,
he was first on the scene. He could prevent this minor mishap from escalating
into a catastrophe. He skirted the edge of the crater and stepped over the
rocks tumbled before the cave mouth. Whoever was working the search beam back
in the copter was doing a good job keeping it trained on him. The cave lit up
before him.

           
 
That was when he noticed the footprints.

           
 
Panic clamped his heart in an icy fist as his
gaze ranged wildly about the cave.

           
Empty. But in the dust on the floor
. . . sandal-prints . . . two sets . . . one larger than the other ... the old
chair—reduced to dust . . . the urns . . .

           
 
The urns! Gone! No, not completely. Fragments
from one of the urns lay scattered in the dust.

           
How could this be? How could a pair
of thieves have come and gone so soon? So swiftly? It wasn't possible!

           
 
And yet the fresh footprints and the missing
urns reminded him that it was indeed possible.

           
The urns . . . what had been in
them? It had been so long, he could barely remember. Had there been anything of
value? Old shekels? He didn't care about losing little bits of gold or silver.
What he did mind was word of the find getting out and causing archeological
interest to center on this place. That could be extremely dangerous.

           
 
But
what
had he put in those urns? He prayed it was nothing that might reveal the
secret of this place. He racked his brain for the memory. It was there, just
out of reach. It—

           
 
The
scroll!

           
 
Dear Lord, he'd left the scroll in one of
those urns!

           
 
Kesev staggered in a circle, his breath
rasping, his heart beating wildly against the inner surface of his sternum as
his vision blurred and lights danced in his vision.

           
 
He had to get it back! If it fell into the
hands of someone who could translate it—

           
 
He leapt from the cave and ran back to the
helicopter.

           
 
"Give me a flashlight! A canteen
too." When the copilot handed them out, Kesev jerked a thumb skyward.
"Return to base. I'm staying here."

           
 
"That's not necessary, sir," the
pilot said. "The inspection team will be here at first light and—"

           
 
"Someone's already beat us here. Probably
picking up scrap metal. I'll stay on and make sure they don't come back and
disturb anything else."

           
 
Kesev was back outside, stepping clear of the
blades and waving them off. He couldn't see them inside the cabin, but he was
sure the two airmen were shrugging and saying, If the crazy little man from
Shin Bet wants to stay in the middle of nowhere until morning, let him.

           
 
Kesev watched the copter rise, bank, and roar
away into the night. As the swirling dust settled on and about him, Kesev stood
statue still among the stunted olive trees and listened . . . for anything. For
any hint of movement that might lead him toward the thieves. But all he heard
was the ringing aftermath of the helicopter's roar. His hearing would be of
little value for the next quarter hour or so.

           
 
He walked back to the cave. He had to look
again, had to be sure he'd seen those footprints, be absolutely certain the
urns were gone.

           
 
He searched the cave inch by inch, poking the
flashbeam into every nook, corner, crack, and crevice. And as he searched he
pounded the remaining furniture to rotted splinters; the same with the remnants
of bedding against the rear wall; he systematically shattered anything that
might hint that the cave had ever been inhabited by a human being. He took the
crumbled remnants of the furniture and pulverized them under his heels, then he
kicked and scattered the resultant powder, mixing it with the fine dust that
layered the floor.

           
 
Satisfied that he'd made the cave as
uninteresting as possible, he pocketed the broken fragments of urn, then went
outside and cried silently to the sinking eye of the moon.

           
 
Why? Why
has this happened?

           
 
Kesev did not wait for an answer. Instead he
headed across the field toward the east wall of the canyon.

           
 
One more place left to check.

           
 
He knew the way. He hadn't been up to the
ledge in a long, long while, but his feet had trod the hidden path so many
times over the years of his life that they carried him along now with no
conscious effort.

           
 
He reached the top of the cliff and stood on
the broad ledge, breathing hard. He'd grown soft in many ways., He coughed and
sipped from the canteen. So dry out here. The membranes inside of his nostrils
felt as if they were ready to crack and peel like old paint. In the old days he
wouldn't

           
have noticed, but he'd grown soft
living so near the sea all these years in Tel Aviv.

           
 
He hurried to the mound of rocks that covered
the entrance to the Resting Place. They remained undisturbed, as he'd expected.
Still, relief flooded through him.

BOOK: F Paul Wilson - Novel 03
8.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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