At last he sighed and broke the silence. "Are you all right, darling?"
"Umm-hmm!!" was the slightly muffled reply.
His voice held a hint of laughter. "I mean–physically."
She loved the way his warm breath touched her neck. She lifted her head and looked into his magnificent grey eyes. "I’m all right, darling. No dizziness or nausea; mild headache. Can only see one of you, darn it."
"You’re incorrigible!" he chuckled. "Okay, my turn now. What freaked you out so badly?"
He felt her quiver as she again buried her face in his neck. "It was him, Connor. It was Mishenka. The ‘angel of death.’ I saw him in the scarab! He’s out there, somewhere, and I’m terrified! I saw him walk right through those bars! He was coming after me, and then he was gone!"
He made a sound and held her closer. "No wonder you freaked! I’m sorry I ever let you near him!"
"How could you have known? Anyway, I insisted." She stirred a little. "Where is that thing, anyway?"
He picked up the flashlight and shone it on the scarab. It was on the floor, near the broken flashlight.
"Shouldn’t they be finding us by now? Is it me, or is it getting hotter in here?"
"Yes, no, and yes. I just had a thought. Can you stand, honey?"
"I think so." She slid off his lap and he stood up, then pulled her gently to her feet. She wavered a little, but remained upright. "What’s your idea?"
He was looking intensely at the wall. "I seem to remember reading someplace that these doors have pivot points. Touch them in the right place, and they swing open, just like they weigh nothing."
"There is one, but I doubt you will find it in time."
Lindsay squealed as they swung around to see a man standing in the middle of the room, the scarab in his hand. Behind him, the panel with the young couple on it was ajar.
"Who are you? And where did you come from? And what are you doing here?" Connor demanded.
The man gave a deep, throaty laugh and bowed. "Mustafa Ben Ra-Hok. I came from there–" he pointed behind him–"and I am here–because I am its guardian." He indicated the scarab. "You have no right to this. My family has guarded this secret, passed down from generation to generation. My ancestor was Amenophes’ high priest. Only he and the pharaoh knew its secret. It is why it was entombed with him. It is more dangerous than you know, and its power is too strong to be used carelessly. And in the wrong hands, it would be used carelessly."
He moved to the sarcophagus and laid it reverently inside, then, amazingly, closed the lid with one hand. "Pivot point," he explained with a slight smile. "Now if you wish to get out of here, please follow me."
Connor and Lindsay looked at each other, nonplused. Connor was speechless with conflict, but he knew the man was right. It was too dangerous, its potential incalculable.
"You had best follow me. The air is running low in here, and your people may not find you in time."
Connor took Lindsay’s hand and together they entered the low, narrow passageway. Mustafa closed the panel behind them, then turned on his own light and led the way.
"The exit is not far, but it is very well-hidden from prying eyes."
Ten minutes later they were outside. It was nearly sundown, but stepping out of the passage was like stepping into an oven.
"You will find the entrance to the tomb in that direction," he pointed. "It is only a few minutes’ walk." Without another word, he turned and walked away in the opposite direction.
They stood and watched him go until he disappeared behind a mound.
Lindsay turned to Connor. "Did we dream it?"
He smiled ironically. "Judging by our appearance, I’d say no. But on the other hand–"
"What are you going to tell headquarters? What are you going to tell Peter?"
He was silent for a while as, hand in hand, they started in the direction of the tomb. "I’m not going to tell headquarters anything. Only you and I know we found it, and the rest of the story. So–we just never found it."
Lindsay nodded. "We never found it. And I am glad it is where it is."
"So am I."
She stopped suddenly. "That’s what that expression was!"
"What?" He was genuinely puzzled.
"When Peter was telling you about the scarab being a fake, first you were angry, and then you got the oddest look on your face. You thought headquarters had pulled one on you again, didn’t you? Just like in Montana!"
He nodded. "I very carefully couched the report, and Frank was genuinely outraged. I thought maybe they had made a switch somehow, but after talking to him, I was sure that, at least in this, he was blameless."
Their sudden appearance outside the tomb while they were frantically looking for the way in to rescue them nearly caused Peter apoplexy. "What happened to you? How’d you get out? Are you hurt?"
"First tell us what happened."
"Natasha and I were in that outer chamber when we heard a scream and a horrific crash! The guards came running, and we ran to the tomb entrance, but couldn’t find it. The lights were lying broken on the floor, with no sign of the wires going into the wall. The guards sent back to Cairo for the one who found the way in in the first place, and he still hasn’t gotten here! I was just about to take the walls down, stone by stone! Now, what happened to you?"
"Lindsay saw a snake and panicked. In trying to get away, she fell against one of the door props. Eventually, we found a secret passage out, and here we are."
"A secret passage? In there? Where was it, and where’d it come out, and can you find it again?"
"I have no idea how to find it again. We were just lucky to get out and start walking in the right direction back here."
Peter opened his mouth again, but Connor interrupted. "Peter! Lindsay’s been hurt; we’re both hot, tired, and hungry, and we want to get back to the hotel. Can we go?"
As it turned out, Lindsay had a very minor concussion, and their departure from Egypt was delayed by three days until she was cleared to fly. Connor had reported that the artifact had proved to be a fake, and recommended closure of the file. Headquarters concurred.
On the evening of the second day, both Connor and Lindsay happened to be in the elevator at the same time. Quickly she pressed the "stop" button and they turned eagerly to one another.
"Mmm,"she said finally, "best medicine in the world!"
"And I recommend booster shots at frequent intervals."
They laughed together, and then abruptly she stepped back, hands on hips. "A snake?"
He laughed again. "Think about it, honey. Isn’t that an apt description?"
"Come to think of it, you were right." She shuddered a little. "Darling, did you see anything in it when you held it?"
He hesitated a moment. "I thought I saw something, but I can’t be sure what. Just–something."
"And it was something that frightened you." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes. Well, it was more like–a–a feeling of foreboding." He saw her whiten, and held her reassuringly. "I may have, and I may not have. And even if I did, who can say what it means?" He gave her another bone melted, then laughingly suggested they release the elevator before a repair crew came.
Three days later, early in the morning, Connor walked into the O.S.I.R. headquarters in New York. As he neared Frank’s office, he met Ray Donahue in the corridor.
"Hey, Connor! How was Egypt?"
Connor smiled. "About as hot there as it is cold here."
"I’ll bet. Hey, the boss just told me to send you in if I saw you. Something about sending us all to Siberia."
"Just think of me, and I will hear you,
though I am a Universe away."