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Authors: Scott Mariani

Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Crime, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Contemporary

The Heretic's Treasure (43 page)

BOOK: The Heretic's Treasure
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Ben said nothing. There was nothing to say. A cold chill had settled in his stomach.

‘I want the treasure, Ben. I’ve wanted it ever since Morgan got drunk that night aboard the
Scimitar
.’ She snorted. ‘Typical man, trying to show off to a woman he fancied and compete with his father at the same time. It was so easy to get him talking. I just kept pouring the drink down his stupid throat, and made sure he could see down my top. Works every time.’

‘So you were just using everyone. Like you used me. Everything you told me was a lie. There was never anything between us.’

She shook her head. ‘That’s not true. When I told you I loved you, I meant it. I want us to be together.’

‘You love me, but you’d let me believe you were a hostage? You’d knowingly put me through that?’

‘What can I say? I had no choice. I had to find a way.’

‘To get what you wanted.’

‘For us.’ Her eyes brightened with excitement. ‘For you and me.’

‘What if I’d been killed?’

‘Not you. Not so easily. I knew you’d come back.’

‘While you just spent the week relaxing, working on your tan with a cool drink at your elbow.’

She looked hurt. ‘It hasn’t been easy for me. Smiling at that bastard, keeping him happy, pretending everything was all right when I couldn’t wait to see you again. We’ve done it. We’re free now. We’ll be rich. What Harry had was peanuts compared to what we’ll have. Think of all the things we can do. The life we’ll be able to lead together.’

‘So you and I run away into the sunset with the gold. Is that how you see it?’

She laughed. ‘Why not? Why can’t it be that simple? What’s to stop us? I love you. And you love me.’ Her smile wavered. ‘You do love me, don’t you?’

He let out a long sigh. ‘Yes. I love you.’

‘Then let’s be together,’ she said. ‘Like we talked about that night in Paris.’

Ben was silent.

‘Well? Aren’t you going to answer me?’

‘Forget it, Zara. It’s over.’

‘Please, Ben. I need you.’

‘You’re insane,’ he said. ‘I can’t understand what kind of monster you are.’ He pointed down at Paxton’s body. ‘You’re worse than him. I love you, but I hate you.’

Her face seemed to twist. Her teeth bared a little, and the sparkle in her eye went dull. ‘Fine. If that’s the way you want it. I’ve always been alone. I’ll survive.’

As she said it, she hooked three fingers onto the bowstring and the sinews in her forearm tightened as she drew her hand back to anchor against her cheek. The arrow shaft scraped softly back into firing position on its launcher. The thick glass fibre limbs of the bow tensed, cam wheels rotating, cables tightening, loading vast amounts of energy behind the razor-sharp arrowhead that was pointing right at his heart.

‘You’d shoot me?’ he said.

Her knuckles were white on the handle of the bow as she held it at full draw. She nodded. ‘I gave you the chance to share the treasure with me. To share a life with me. You didn’t want it. Your choice. I’m sorry, but you’re not giving me any other way out.’

‘You could turn yourself in. Try and make some amends for what you’ve done.’

She laughed. ‘Get real.’

He raised the heavy pistol and squared the sights right on her, centre of mass. Her laugh froze on her lips. Confusion flashed in her eyes.

‘Now it gets more complicated,’ he said. ‘I’ve got two pounds of pressure on this trigger. You put that arrow in me, and all it takes is a tiny squeeze as my muscles go into a spasm. Just an ounce. And you’ll be dead at the same instant as me. We both hit the floor at the same time. No more treasure for you.’

She didn’t reply. They circled each other.

‘Now you have a choice,’ he said. ‘Put the bow down, face the consequences. Or I’ll shoot.’

‘You wouldn’t.’

He pulled the trigger. The Desert Eagle boomed and recoiled in his hand. The crack of the shot echoed out to sea.

Zara screamed and fell back. The arrow clattered harmlessly down, unfired. The string and cables hung loose from the bow, all the tension gone out of it. The cam wheel that Ben had shot off the end of its top limb bounced and rolled across the boards like a huge coin.

Zara lay on the deck, still clutching the shattered bow and weeping with shock and rage.

Ben let the pistol down at his side. Reached into his pocket and took out the little leather pouch. Drew back his arm and hurled it far out to sea. It sailed up in the air, just a dark dot against the sun, and dropped down and hit the water with a splash.

Then he walked over to where Paxton had set down the gold statuette. He picked it up, walked to the rail and lobbed it over the side. A last glitter, and it was gone. Maybe in another few centuries, some lucky diver would find it on the sea bed.

‘There goes your treasure,’ he said to Zara. ‘It’s over. Finished. Was it worth it?’ He reached out his hand, took her arm and pulled her gently to her feet.

Her tear-filled eyes searched his. Her hair was wild, jaw tight. ‘Now I have nothing,’ she said bitterly. ‘You’ve ruined me. Left me without a penny.’

‘I think you ruined things for yourself, Zara.’

She hung her head in despair. ‘What are you going to do with me?’

He paused a long time before replying. Watched her face. The kind of feelings he had for her didn’t just go away. They wouldn’t go away for a long time.

‘You know I could never harm you,’ he said.

‘Don’t turn me in,’ she pleaded. ‘I’d die. I couldn’t live in jail.’

‘Who’d believe me?’ he said. ‘It would be your word against mine. You and Harry covered your tracks well. Now he’s dead. You’re free. And I’m gone.’

‘No, Ben. Don’t go.’

He turned his back on her and started walking towards the rail. Beyond it, the motor launch was bobbing gently on the swell.

He put a hand on the rail and was about to swing his leg over the side, when she ran after him and gripped his arm tightly. Her cheeks were streaked with tears. ‘Stay with me,’ she murmured. She came up close to him and stroked his face. The touch of her fingers was tender and warm, and for a moment he almost gave in to it. Emotion rose up in him.

Those kinds of feelings didn’t just go away.

But they would, in time. He swallowed hard, and pulled away from her.

‘Goodbye, Zara.’

‘Ben—’ Her voice cracked into a sob of pain.

He didn’t reply. Zara watched forlornly as he climbed down into the launch and cast off.

Twenty yards from the yacht, he looked back and saw the lonely figure at the rail, staring after him, the breeze blowing in her hair. The sun was beginning to set behind her.

He didn’t look back again.

Epilogue

Le Val

The following night

The rain was lashing down out of a starless sky as Ben got out of the Mini and crossed the puddled yard to the house. The place seemed empty and desolate as he climbed the steps to the front door, opened it and went inside. He wearily hung up his jacket, and walked down the dark passage towards the kitchen door.

As he reached out his hand to turn the handle, he stopped and looked down, noticing the strip of light under the door. He walked in.

‘Hello, Ben,’ Brooke said. She was sitting reading in the soft glow of a lamp. She laid the novel face-down on the table and watched him for a moment. ‘You’re home.’

He pulled up a wooden chair and sat down in it with a sigh.

Brooke got up quietly. Fetched a glass from the cupboard and filled it with wine. Without a word, she brought it over to him and set it down in front of him.

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I’m home.’

Author’s Note

As a historical figure, the pharaoh Akhenaten may lack the glamour and romance of a Ramses or a Tutankhamun, but no other ancient Egyptian ruler is as bizarre or shrouded in mystery. The strange story of Akhenaten has been retold many times-the famous British crime novelist Agatha Christie wrote a play about him, modern composer Philip Glass has written an opera, and for fans of Death Metal there is even a song by the band Nile called ‘Cast down the Heretic’.

There have been many weird and wonderful theories surrounding this enigmatic king: building on the hypothesis of the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud that Moses might have been a follower of Akhenaten, some historians have proposed that Moses and Akhenaten might actually be one and the same. Going still further into the realms of fantasy, there have even been suggestions that Akhenaten was
not of this earth.
Certainly, anyone who has seen his likeness will testify to the man’s distinctly odd, alien appearance.

But whoever-or whatever-Akhenaten might have been, his claim to fame was his legendary attempt to replace the state religion of ancient Egypt with one of his own devising, the so-called Aten cult. This is the first monotheistic religion on record, and had Akhenaten succeeded in making it stick, he would have altered the face of his homeland forever. Unfortunately for him, his religious coup was destined to abject failure. Almost immediately after his death, Egypt reverted to the old polytheistic religion and no effort was spared to eradicate all trace of the despised heretic and pretend he never existed.

Most of the historical background in this novel is based firmly on actual facts. The three rebel priests who conspired to steal the condemned treasures from under Akhenaten’s nose are entirely fictitious-though I believe that, given what the wayward pharaoh was up to and the degree of hatred and resentment he stirred up, it’s not wildly beyond the mark to suggest that such a ‘heist’ might have been planned or even taken place. After all, so little is known about that time-scholars are even unable to agree on the exact dates of Akhenaten’s reign. With amazing new discoveries being made each year, who knows what secrets the desert sands may yield up in the future?

I hope you enjoyed reading
The Heretics Treasure.
Ben Hope will return again!

Scott Mariani

Acknowledgements

As ever, I’m indebted to the team of people who have helped make this book possible:

A big thank you to ‘D’, the real Ben Hope, and all at Prometheus Medical for advice and information. I’m also grateful to Elizabeth O’Connell at the British Museum for kind help in translating hieroglyphics.

To Broo and Robin of the Wade & Doherty Literary Agency: thanks again for your wisdom and support (and champagne, too!). And last but by no means least, I’d like to specially acknowledge all the team at Avon, whose energy, dedication and enthusiasm are an ongoing inspiration.

About the Author

Scott Mariani grew up in St Andrews, Scotland. He studied Modern Languages at Oxford and went on to work as a translator, a professional musician, a pistol shooting instructor and a freelance journalist before becoming a full-time writer. After spending several years in Italy and France, Scott discovered his secluded writer’s haven in the wilds of west Wales, an 1830s country house complete with rambling woodland and a secret passage. When he isn’t writing, Scott enjoys jazz, movies, classic motorcycles and astronomy. The Ben Hope novels have sold across the world.

To find out more about Scott Mariani go to
www.scottmariani.com

BOOK: The Heretic's Treasure
12.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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