MYSTERY, FORBIDDEN LOVE, AND GRAND ADVENTURE.
Knuckles rapped against wood. Jumping in my seat, my book smacked into the desk. Beyond flickering candlelight stood the door of the meager hotel room, but the sound hadn’t come from the hall. The ruckus arose from the other side of the door to the adjoining room.
Grabbing my cane in a shaky hand, I crept across the floor. The knocking ceased. I didn’t know anyone else staying here. Someone who’d had too much to drink? Pressing my good ear against the thin partition, I held my breath. Cool air seeped under the door, like an evil spirit trying to slither in. Floorboards creaked inside the adjacent room, drowning out a man’s muffled ranting. The tapping of metal on glass followed. Was this neighbor trying to get out to his balcony, or was someone else out there attempting to break in? I wiped the sweat from my trembling palms onto my pants.
A fist pounded again, rattling my skull. I stumbled backward as my heart thundered against old ribs. The crushing grip of terror squeezed my chest, allowing only faint breaths to spew in rapid succession. Should I wedge a chair against the door and jump out a second story window? I took a deeper breath. No, I’d pretend my room was vacant and hope the disturbance would disappear.
Silence. Could he be in serious trouble, like choking or a heart attack? I might not have been much of a hero, but I wasn’t the type to ignore suffering because of fear and the late hour. Gurgling followed, and maybe a muted cry for help. Guilt gnawed at my gut. Maybe I should just peek in. I inched toward the deadbolt and quietly slid it over. The door burst open, revealing an unkempt man in a suit and fedora. He leapt at me. Grabbing the front of my waistcoat, he yanked, pulling me within an inch of his face. Bloodshot eyes bored into mine. My fingers slipped off the cane and it clattered to the floor. A rank stench of smoldering whiskey billowed through my nostrils. I couldn’t move or breathe.
“L-listen!” the man whispered. His stinging breath poured over my face as he swayed, his words slurred. “D-don’t let ’em know I talked to you. Get this out of the country! Please, for the sake of mankind, take it and contact Dr. Shelsher’s office in Cambridge. I’m the last of his colleagues here. Find another who knows!”
The man’s hand dove into his jacket and produced a small picture frame, thrusting it against my chest. Instinctively seizing the object, I acted more in defense than for desire. He spun around on one heel and retreated back into his room. A drawn curtain veiled the door to his balcony, but the glass shuddered, and muffled voices clawed their way in from the outside.
Glaring back at me, he pointed. “Hide it, lock your door, put that flame out, and go to bed! You never s-saw me. Best depart first thing in the mornin’.” He eased his door shut. A metal bolt slid against wood, issuing a scratch and a dull thud.
I slammed my own partition door shut and bolted it. Forcing deep breaths, I braced myself against the thin wood. What had just happened, and what did that crazy man give me? My knees gave way and I slumped to the floor. My hands held a sepia-style portrait of a group of men in suits. They wielded tools and stood outside an excavated tomb in the desert—an immediate reminder of the recent discovery of a new pharaoh of ancient Egypt, King Tut. Howard Carter had uncovered the boy king’s tomb last fall, November 1922. But this picture wasn’t of Tut’s tomb. I brushed a hand across the surface in wonder, disturbing a thin layer of dust. Something sharp poked into my other palm. Wincing, I jerked my wrinkled hand from the frame. A gap revealed itself between lengths of wood. Hidden treasure lay tucked inside. My pulse quickened in anticipation. I stuck my fingernail through the slit.
A gunshot exploded next door, penetrating the walls of the hotel, and resonating out into the desert night. Dogs barked and hotel guests screamed. I dropped the frame and extinguished the candle, hiding in the dark. Quiet. Sneaking over to the bathroom, I huddled against a far corner. Pain compressed my throat, reminding me I still had to breathe while listening for intruders. Seconds dragged by like hours. I remained frozen, even as my muscles cramped in displeasure. Ten minutes later someone pounded on a nearby door in the hall. I lurched. “Open up—police!” a man shouted in Arabic. A door creaked opened. More shouting. Banging and muttering carried through the adjoining wall for hours.
Before sunrise I departed for Cairo. But as I shuffled through the lobby, a clerk whispered to a bellhop and mentioned a suicide. My blood turned cold. Stopping to eavesdrop, I feigned innocence by rifling through my luggage as if I had forgotten something. The clerk described a gruesome fountain of blood spewed across a room. The victim had supposedly taken his life with his own gun. Hugging my cane, I felt defenseless. A suicide? Or perhaps a murder committed by the strangers out on the balcony last night. I needed to escape with this secret or I might be the next to die.
The aged paper of the diary I read from crackled as I slipped it inside the picture frame, nestling it alongside another hidden message penned by Dr. Shelsher himself.
Eve of the Pharaoh
A very unique approach
– 5 Star Review –
Enthrall[ing,] action-packed … vivid scenery, complicated characters, and unexpected turns that erupt around an ancient mystery …
– Jennifer Anne Davis, author of The True Reign Series –