“I’ll drink to that,” Gideon said with a smile. But his feelings were mixed. Here’s to six solid weeks of cramming on ancient Egypt, he thought.

Chapter Two

Clifford Haddon paused in mid-sentence, placed his glass of Scotch on the side table, and rose to shut the windows behind him. Even with them closed, the din was maddening. Eighteen years in Egypt and he had yet to get used to the unremitting noise. When he’d first started at Horizon House, the nights had been almost tolerable, but ever since some public-relations wunderkind had come up with those unspeakable sound-and-light shows at Karnak and Luxor Temple— one three-quarters of a mile north of Horizon House, the other three-quarters of a mile south—the racket along the Corniche was unending from morning till midnight. If you asked him, Luxor’s traffic was as deafening as Cairo’s and getting worse all the time.

He snorted. The Egyptian view of automobile horns, as conveniently fatalistic as the Egyptian view of everything else, was that they were meant to be used, or else why have them? And use them they did, with a vengeance. No polite little bip-bips on the streets of Luxor or Cairo or Alexandria. Six endless, excruciating seconds—that was the mean time any individual horn blared; he knew because he had taken the time to establish it empirically. They blew their precious horns on any pretext whatever: to let off steam, to express high spirits, to impress other drivers, to intimidate those pedestrians foolish or desperate enough to try make it from one curb to the other, and, he had no doubt, to satisfy the universal desire to add their two cents to the general pandemonium lest Allah not mark their presence.

He returned to his chair and resumed his seat. “Have you ever thought,” he mused to the three people seated in armchairs near the fireless fireplace in the austere, vaguely baronial room known as the gallery, “what a wonderful country Egypt would be—”

“—if not for the Egyptians,” said one of them, a blonde woman of thirty-five with one bare leg draped over the arm of her chair.

Haddon scowled, having remembered too late that Tiffany Baroff had been at his side a few days before, when he had produced this witticism while showing a group of visiting Austrian scholars over the grounds.

“Exactly,” he said grumpily as he resumed his seat, averting his eyes from the vulgarly swinging leg, on the knee of which he had perceived one of the Donald Duck plastic strips that she used to cover her frequent scrapes and scratches. When had archaeologists begun looking like overgrown tomboys?

And Tiffany, was that a name for an archaeologist? She herself preferred TJ, but to his mind that was more preposterous still. Tiffany was her name, such as it was, and as far as he was concerned, they were both stuck with it.

Not that she looked like a Tiffany. Now Helga, that would suit her, or Edwina. Big-boned, knobby-kneed, impertinent, and relentlessly, aggravatingly healthy, she was given to baggy tan shorts, baggy men’s work shirts (worn with the tails out), and ankle-top sneakers of a startlingly pneumatic appearance. All in all, she looked more like a forward on a ladies’ field hockey team than the supervisor of field activities for one of the world’s oldest Egyptological institutions. And not only the supervisor of field activities, but his chief assistant. And not only that, but the likely heir to the directorship when he himself was forced to step down the following year on reaching seventy.

Over his dead body. No grubbing field archaeologist who couldn’t tell the difference between demotic script and abnormal hieratic was going to run Horizon House if he had anything to say about it. Certainly not one named Tiffany, with Donald Duck patches on her knees.

“Shall we get down to business?” he said. He stroked his crisp, silvery beard. “It seems we’re going to have to adjust our schedule for the next few days.”

Tiffany’s tanned leg stopped swinging. She watched him warily. On her right, Arlo Gerber, head of the epigraphic unit, had a vaguely apprehensive look in his eyes, but was there really anything extraordinary about that? On Tiffany’s other side, Jerry Baroff, librarian and registrar (and Tiffany’s much-to-be-pitied husband), puffed his pipe and also looked the way he always looked, which was to say elsewhere.

“As you know,” Dr. Haddon went on, “we poor scholars are at the mercy of our old friend Forrest Freeman, the Orson Welles of cinema archeologique, who has been encumbering our normally simple and unassuming lives for several days now, in connection with the making of a manifestly unnecessary, exasperatingly time-consuming, and extraordinarily expensive documentary film—not, of course, that the expenses involved would be of any concern to its sponsors, the estimable Beatrice and Bruno, among us at present for their annual laying on of hands and imperial—”

He paused. “Yes, Arlo?”

“Actually, they’re not making a film. It’s a videotape.”

“Oh, yes? How interesting.”

“I only meant that it’s not as expensive as making a film.”

“Thank you. Will all please note that the record has been set straight.”

Beneath Arlo’s absurd little mustache his mouth quivered and set. He examined his rather grubby fingernails. Dr. Haddon recognized the all-too-familiar signs of resentment and offended dignity. A man of exquisite sensibilities, Arlo Gerber.

“May I continue now?” Dr. Haddon said. “I met with Forrest for some time this afternoon to discuss changes in our schedule. It seems they have run into a conflict with the visa authorities, and must cut their time with us by several days. You can readily imagine how disconsolate I was at this news.

“Now: our original schedule called for two more days here at Horizon House, to be followed by a flight to el- Amarna, whence we were to embark on a luxurious week-long cruise back up the Nile to Luxor—a Nile cruise, heaven help us!— stopping at various and sundry sites recalling the many Horizon House triumphs of yesteryear. Then we were to conclude with another five days of filming—I beg your pardon, Arlo, of videotaping—in and around Horizon House.”‘

He frowned at Tiffany, whose leg had begun its impatient and recriminatory oscillations again. What an unfailingly irritating woman she was. Really, it wasn’t as if he didn’t know perfectly well that he was repeating something they had already heard. But with this group, one couldn’t repeat things too many times. Say it often enough, and anything was possible. Tiffany might actually stop arguing, Arlo might say something pertinent, and Jerry might even be caught at a rare moment when he was inadvertently paying attention to what was going on around him.

Not very likely, any of it, but one had to try.

“And now there’s going to be a change?” Jerry asked.

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