Well, there you were.

“Yes, Jerry. In order to meet the new time constraints el-Amarna has been eliminated from the schedule. We will start the cruise at Abydos instead, saving several days. And our departure from Horizon House will now be the day after tomorrow, one day after we are joined by Gideon Oliver, that well-known paragon of scientific decorum and reserve. That will eliminate a day here at Horizon House, and one additional day will be pruned after we return. Naturally, certain activities will have to be abbreviated or eliminated. For one thing, Jerry, they obviously can no longer spend an entire morning in the library. I hope two hours will be sufficient.”

Jerry’s shoulders lifted in a vague but acquiescent shrug. “Sure, I guess so. I don’t even know what I can tell them that’ll take two hours.”

“Very good. And Arlo? Three hours in your section?”

Arlo nodded in a removed sort of way, as if these details were beneath him. Still piqued, the man was. “Very well, if that’s all that can be spared.”

“Very good. And I fear we had better eliminate the visit to WV-29 entirely, inasmuch—”

“Oh, now, wait a minute—” Tiffany’s leg was snatched gawkily back over the arm of the chair. Her dirty, size- ten sneaker swept across the low table in front of her, knocking Jerry’s pipe out of the ashtray and making him sit up with a start, alert if only for the moment.

Tiffany leaned forward, staring grimly at Haddon. “I don’t believe this.”

Excessive though it was, this response did not surprise him. WV-29 was archaeological shorthand for Western Valley 29, the twenty-ninth site to be located in the arid, dismal, little-visited side-canyon of the Valley of the Kings just across the Nile. It was also Tiffany’s pet project, now in its fifth season of excavation, and she had entertained fond hopes of showing it off for posterity.

“Believe me, my dear,” Dr. Haddon said, “I’m more distressed about this than you are. But think about the time involved. A ferry across the river, a van to the valley floor, a fifty-foot scramble up the hillside with all that camera equipment—Forrest felt—”

“Balls, Forrest doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Tiffany said. “It’s you. You just don’t give a damn whether the site’s included or not.”

Dr. Haddon considered pouring himself a bit more Scotch, but decided against it despite the provocation. He knew from sad experience that more than three fingers, when combined with the pills he now took to battle the various decrepitudes of age, would make him a sorry man in the morning.

With some effort, he dredged up a kindly smile for her. “Not so, my dear. The fact of the matter is, I argued mightily with Forrest, suggesting that Horizon House be the documentary’s sole location, thereby eliminating the cruising time in its entirety. Unfortunately, the masterful Forrest exerted his contractual—”

“Are you cutting the time they’re going to spend on your Middle Egyptian generative grammar paradigm?”

“That,” he said crisply, “was never scheduled to take more than two hours in the first place.”

“So they’re getting two hours of syntactic analysis that nobody has given a damn about since 1932,” Tiffany blurted, “but you’re not going to let them near our one and only working excavation?”

Now he was annoyed. “Excavation of what?” he said testily. “Tell us, just what is there to see up there? What is this wondrous WV-29 that consumes so much of our resources? The long-lost royal tomb of Queen Tiy? Of Akhenaten himself?” Damn it all, there she’d gone and made him lose his temper.

“No,” she said, her face settling into the irritating sulk that heralded one of her little lectures. “It’s not a long- lost royal anything. It was a common, everyday workers’ village with absolutely nothing in it of royal interest. Just ordinary, average people not worth bothering about.”

He eyed the Scotch bottle once more: Teacher’s Highland Cream, purchased at extortionate cost, but well worth it when compared to the barbaric Egyptian spirits. Perhaps under the circumstances he could allow himself the merest driblet more. He poured, sipped, and felt better for it.

“My dear Tiffany, I’m quite aware—”

“The purpose of modern Egyptological research,” she went on automatically—and why wouldn’t it be automatic, considering the regularity with which she trotted out this tiresome and misinformed harangue?—“isn’t to uncover more royal burials, more royal stelae, it’s to reconstruct the broader—”

“—the broader social and cultural institutions of ancient Egypt,” Dr. Haddon supplied. Tit for tat.

“—and—” Tiffany faltered momentarily, but only momentarily. “Yes, that’s right, but as long as we continue to pay more attention to interpreting, and re-interpreting, and re-re-interpreting the goddamn objects that come out of the ground than we do to the real knowledge that comes from careful stratigraphic excavation—”

“Yes, yes, Tiffany, I know, but time had to be found somewhere. Forrest is in complete accord with the decision, and I really don’t see what I can be expected to do about it.”

Apparently, neither did she. She made a disgusted motion with her hand and folded her arms. “The hell with it,” she muttered and subsided, defeated.

Dr. Haddon cleared his throat. “Now, if no one has further objections, I should like to discuss a few related matters to make sure there is no misunderstanding.” He paused. “Are there any objections?”

Jerry Baroff dipped his chin and passed the back of his hand over his mouth to hide a yawn. Tiffany stared morosely at the floor, no doubt framing the rebuttals and counterstatements she wished she’d made. Arlo Gerber, turtlelike and opaque, offered a convincing impression of a man giving his attention to some unpleasant digestive happening. Whether from malice or constitutional deficiency, Dr. Haddon’s audience appeared to have sunk into impenetrability.

Abruptly, Dr. Haddon suffered one of his increasingly frequent sinkings of the heart. The thought of ending his long career—he who had worked alongside Aldred and James— with this sorry crew as his companions in the pursuit of knowledge weighed heavily on his aging shoulders. Just look at them. What was going on in those closed and brutish minds?

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