The morning rain fell so hard that Nathan Eckhoff almost wondered if he’d gone back in time and the Nile was going to flood. Ridiculous. He pictured the bunker-like Aswan Dam with its sloping sides and massive columns. Yeah, no more flooding.
He glanced at the sky. Where was this rain coming from anyway? Egypt was a desert for a reason. Rain like this almost never happened. It felt almost biblical.
Shaking his head at the weird weather, he dashed down the Cairo street. The smell of the rain combined with wet stone and an odor like old, boiling basil. Nathan tugged his rain parka hood over his head, wishing the pick-up location were closer to his flat, like it was for the professors.
Movement caught his eye from across the road. Tingles spread down his neck and back, the hair on his arms standing. A figure, difficult to make out through the rain and murk of the early morning, seemed to be watching him. Is that a trench coat or a suit? Nathan felt like he was trying to peer between rain drops as he stepped toward the watcher. Whatever the—man?—wore, it was kind of gray.
It was a man. A white beard and white hair.
Nathan shivered and looked away. Was that guy watching him?
He spun and broke into a fast walk. Approaching the next intersection, he tossed a glance back toward the man.
The street was empty.
What the hairy heck?
Nathan stared at the spot where the man had been standing. I didn’t imagine him, did I?
Confused, Nathan broke back into a slow jog. He pushed his thoughts to images of Kelsey’s face last night, softly lit by the sconce lights in the restaurant. He swallowed the catch in his breath. In that light, her smile and crinkling eyes had sparkled. He and Kelsey had spent the night talking, ignoring the other interns. Almost like a date.
He should ask her. Just dinner. Why would she say no?
Without realizing it, he’d slowed to a walk, having to squint to see through the rain.
A pile of something to his right shifted. Tingles slid down his neck and spine, fading as he noticed it was a woman with what looked like three kids, huddled under a ragged tarp.
She stared at him and he realized he was just standing there. Must be hungry. And the bread line’s probably a few hours away. How would it be to live like that? Living on the streets, with your kids, no way to earn money?
He reached into his parka, extracting the paper bag of fresh rolls he’d picked up earlier. Shoving a couple of Egyptian pounds into the bag, Nathan stepped closer to the huddled family. "It's okay," he said in Egyptian Arabic. Her eyes narrowed. "Here, I have bread—and no long line."
Her stare never left him, but in the space of a second, the bag left his hand and disappeared under the tarp.
He took off, jogging across the next intersection. As he crossed the street, he peered through the rain at the area around him. Something felt—heavy, as if somebody were standing right behind him. He glanced left and right.
Unnerved, he took a deep breath. Imagining things. This is what happens when you’re up so late, dummy. You start freaking out over nothing.
He turned a corner and the mini-bus came into view, its exhaust plume mixing with the mist being driven off the pavement by the pounding rain. Nathan darted across the road into the shelter of the qahwa shop the team met at every morning. Thick tendrils of rich aroma tugged at him. His mouth tightened in anticipation of his first cup. He smiled, raising his chin in greeting at the mini-bus driver, Falah, who sat at a small, round table in the shop.
Despite being late, Nathan was the first to arrive. He nodded at the shop's proprietor. "Alo," Nathan said, reaching to take the saucer with the small cup and copper pot on it. The proprietor let loose with a lengthy complaint about the unusual rain and what it meant.
Nathan agreed and made his way to a table as a group of three more interns from his dig crew spilled through the doorway. Glenda, her tiny friend Annie, and Donald all looked like slightly heated death, as usual. All of them must have stayed for a while after Kelsey and I left.
“I could kill for some coffee right now,” Glenda said, tossing her long dark hair as she dropped the hood of her parka, spatters of rain flying everywhere.
Annie barked a laugh that seemed too big for her petite frame. “Yeah, but the question is where would you hide the body? It’s not like there are any tombs around here.” Nathan smiled at that. Nice. Says the lady who spends all day digging in a thousand year old tomb.
Glenda joined her friend in laughter. Don’s low chuckles came in a little late; Nathan had no trouble seeing how forced Don’s laughter was. Poor guy. He just wants to fit in. Not for the first time, Nathan wished he knew how to make small talk. Don could use a friend, or at least someone who paid attention to him.
Setting his coffee on a table, Nathan yanked off his parka and shook it as he draped it on the back of a chair, dangling his satchel over the top. Dark water spots appeared on the concrete floor, spreading and softening at the edges as the stone absorbed the rainwater. The interns’ voices echoed loudly in the small café as they fumbled through ordering qahwa in English. Easing himself into a chair, Nathan glanced at the group of new PhDs, a smile stretching his cheeks. Should I help them get their coffee?
As Glenda’s voice got louder, he mentally shrugged. Nah. They’ll figure it out.
A tight squeeze in his stomach reminded him he’d given away his breakfast. He forced the regret away. He could find a snack soon.
Glenda, her qahwa in hand, walked toward Nathan’s table. “First as always, eh Almost Doctor?”
Nathan pushed a smile onto his face. “Yep.” Adorable. ‘Almost Doctor’ had been her nickname for him since day one. A harmless, dumb joke from—well, pretty much a harmless person.
She folded her tall body into the chair across from him. “You and Kelsey have a good time?”
He resisted rolling his eyes at her suggestive smile. “Yeah. Nice walk. Before all this started, of course.” He indicated the rain.
Glenda sipped, raising her eyebrows and practically leering at him with heavily made-up eyes.
As Annie and Don joined them, Nathan wished he’d sat at one of the smaller tables. Sure, they were good people, but sometimes a guy just wanted to be alone.
“Staying dry?” Annie asked.
Despite her sometimes too-loud laugh, Nathan liked Annie more than Glenda. “Yeah,” he said, trying to make it obvious he didn’t really want to talk. When was Kelsey going to show up? And Dr. James. Why was that guy always late?
Nathan watched Don get left out in the cold, as usual, while Annie and Glenda launched into a conversation about an urn they’d worked on yesterday at the dig. Poor guy. Nathan almost laughed at himself. He’d been thinking the same thing about Don for the last three weeks. He briefly wondered if Don realized that everybody knew how infatuated he was with Glenda. The way Don looked at her—Yeah, puppy dog.
“We should go to a movie tonight,” Annie said, looking around the table. “If the dig gets called off today on account of rain, we could even go early.” She set her cup on its saucer, waiting for a response.
Nathan smiled. A movie? In Cairo? What a waste! “Yeah. Maybe Curse of the Nile.” He waited for laughter but was only met by dry expressions of bemusement. He stood and crossed to the counter, indicating he wanted a fresh pot of qahwa.
“What’s playing?” Don asked, his voice just loud enough to be heard from behind Nathan.
“I don’t know, but there’s that theater like two blocks from the hostel,” Annie said.
“And the club is right next to it,” Glenda said.
Nathan smiled at the shop owner and took the saucer with the small, steaming mug. Would it be rude to sit at a different table?
As he rejoined the group, he glanced at the door, a prickling feeling running down his spine. Was somebody out there? A sensation, almost like light pressure on his shoulders, ran through him. Was somebody watching him? He scanned what little he could see of the rain-drenched street. The sensation stayed—almost as if he could see something out of the corner of his eye if he turned fast enough. He stood, listening and watching for—anything. Long moments passed. The feeling faded.
Nathan turned to the table with the other interns.
“So how about it, Almost Doctor?” Glenda shot Nathan a smirk. “You think you and Kelsey want to see a flick?”
Nathan favored her with raised eyebrows. Glenda knew his program had been delayed, but she had no way of knowing why. He swallowed past the sudden pain in his throat. She just didn’t know. It wasn’t her fault.
“I don’t know. You can ask Kelsey when she gets here.” He brought the mug to his lips, savoring the sharp heat, trying to exorcise the memories and pain.
Annie’s laugh exploded across him. “Dude. Why pretend nothing’s going on? Everyone knows you two are together.”
Nathan forced a single-syllable chuckle, seeing a pained expression cross Don’s face. “You mean everyone assumes.”
“Yeah, okay,” Glenda said. “You’re just friends.”
Nathan shrugged, hoping to let the subject fade from the conversation. Should I mention her and Chris? He glanced at Don, wondering if he had figured it out yet. The poor guy had no chance because Glenda and Chris had been an item from day one of the dig. Had Don noticed or was he so infatuated that he couldn’t see reality?
How could Don not know? It seemed so obvious to Nathan. It’s just observation. His first lesson from more than ten years ago with Dad came back to him, watching people go in and out of public places, drawing conclusions based on body language and other indicators.
Nathan’s vision blurred, his throat tightening.
Guilt, familiar now after so many months, filled him like a thick fog. All of those telephone conversations which grew more and more rare. Dad’s voice coming down the line to Cairo from the old house in Palo Alto. How did I miss it? He inhaled the rich aroma of the coffee, fighting the tightness in his throat.
He should have known what was coming, what with Mom being gone for so long and Dad’s MS getting worse by the week. But Dad was always so upbeat, so proud of him, so excited about, in Dad’s words, “the challenging path” Nathan was following.
A flash of anger passed through him; he forced it away instantly. Dad had been suffering for so long, and the loneliness hadn’t helped. Obviously suicide had ended up being Dad’s way of ending all of that. And I can’t blame him. All of that pain. Dad had felt so alone.
He needed a time machine, needed to go back and fix it, spend time with Dad. He should have said something, asked his dad about how he was, talked about something that might take Dad’s mind off his illness. Or maybe just left Egypt. Why was I so stupid?
He lifted his mug to his lips again. I’ll never ignore the urge to help, or at least say something. Never again.
Loneliness welled up like blood from a cut. He would finally be finishing his PhD soon. Dad would have shouted long and loud during the graduation ceremony. Nathan stared at the shiny copper of the small kettle on his saucer.
But no, he was an adult orphan, now that both Mom and Dad were gone. He wondered when he would get used to not being able to call Dad about something he’d learned, or a place he’d visited.
It’s all right. Dad’s gotta be happier wherever he is now.
Nathan wrenched his thoughts back to the present, to his quickly cooling qahwa. This had to stop. Six months at home, going through countless papers, opening and discarding innumerable condolences, sleeping surrounded by a lifetime of memories but still feeling totally alone—that should be enough.
It had to be enough. He had to stay focused. This dig, this job in Cairo, this was part of his dissertation. He nodded at Chris, then smiled at Kelsey as she appeared right behind Chris, water dripping from her parka. Kelsey returned his smile. Sometimes not so alone.
As she went to the counter, Nathan stared at his table, studying the grain. He had to work. Dad would expect it of him. Even in the worst of his MS, Dad would have his text-to-speech computer system read him the latest articles on neuroscience. I just wish you hadn’t given up.
He breathed slowly past the lump in his throat, forcing his thoughts back to the café; the searing, bitter qahwa; the dig.
Dr. James, the leader of the team, along with Dr. Hintze and Dr. Thomas, fumbled into the café, arguing about something. As usual, Hintze and Thomas seemed to be taking great joy in teaming up against Dr. James.
Nathan took a long sip and scanned the room to make sure everyone was here. Startled, with chilly tendrils sliding down his back, Nathan forced his eyes to slide over the white-haired man in a pristine gray suit who sat at a table in the back of the café. How long had that guy been there? Nathan felt certain the man hadn't been there when he'd come in ten minutes ago.
And Nathan felt sure he would have seen the guy come in. Unless there was a back door. He let his gaze wander back to the suited man. A strange shock flowed over him, his neck tingling. The guy was staring right at him.
Wait. Dark gray suit. White hair and beard.
Was that the guy who’d been out in the rain, watching him? Nathan glanced at him again. The man was completely dry.
A shiver passed through Nathan. It was the same guy, for sure. And he was definitely following him. Seriously. What were the chances that the same guy he’d seen something like six blocks away would end up in the same café?
Nathan gulped his coffee and stood, reaching for his parka. And why was the guy staring at him? Maybe he was from the Cairo government, an observer or something.
Nathan quickly swept his gaze across the white-haired man again. No. Definitely not from the government.
"Enough dallying." Dr. James' voice carried easily through the café. The man had been lecturing in huge halls for over thirty years; he knew how to project. "We must be off."
Nathan set his saucer on the low counter with a soft clatter and grabbed his parka, glancing to the back of the café again. The white-haired man was gone.
What on earth? He snagged his parka, shook any remaining droplets off, and pulled it around his shoulders. He searched the shadows of the coffee shop as he brought up the end of the line moving toward the mini-bus. Nothing. Where had the guy gone? There had to be a back door.
Buttoning his parka and slinging his bag diagonally across his chest, he took a few steps toward the back of the café.
“Mr. Eckhoff, we are leaving.” Dr. James sipped his qahwa noisily.
Nathan glanced at the archaeologist and nodded. “Be right there.” Taking long strides, he navigated among the tables and got a good look at the back wall of the café.
A dark blue door, closed tightly.
Nathan let out a breath. See? Nothing to worry about.
He turned and followed the others out to the mini-bus.
But who was that guy? And why was he so sure that the white-haired man in the café had been the same person who he’d seen in the rain?
Nathan felt the sensation come again, as if somebody were watching him.
He laughed silently. I’m being ridiculous. Keeping his head ducked as he moved toward the back of the mini-bus to sit near Kelsey, he willed the concern away. It’s the stress. Dad and this dig and everything.
Is paranoia the first sign of a nervous breakdown?
The concern didn’t leave. It had to be the stress.
Nathan watched through the windows as the mini-bus pulled away. Was the white-haired guy going to suddenly appear on the seat next to him?
Long minutes passed as he clenched his jaw, tension making his back ache as he stared out the windows at the gray, rainy streets.
People just had no clue. Selfish, loud, demanding, and totally annoying. And that was just the beginning.
Jake shoved a lock of lank, black hair off his forehead, scanning the dusty, sagging shelves for the name written on the small piece of scratch paper he held.
Take this lady, for instance. She comes in, doesn’t spend any time trying to find what she’s looking for on her own, and bugs him about it. Then she spells the author’s name, telling him at least five times that there’s no ‘N’ between the ‘I’ and the ‘S,’ and stands there as if she were the queen of the world.
Yeah, well this store isn’t your kingdom, lady. He found the ‘W’ section and scanned through it quickly. Although that hair of yours could use a crown to hide it.
He saw the book the lady had asked about. At the same moment, an image of her entitled, demanding face flashed through his brain.
He straightened and pushed the hair from his forehead again, the action automatic.
Emerging from the aisle, he caught the lady’s eye. “Sorry, ma’am. We don’t have it.”
Grim satisfaction filled him as disappointment scrunched her face. She nodded, mouthed her thanks, and made the store a lot better by leaving. The bell above the glass door jingled too loudly; it felt like the sound formed into slivers that stabbed his ears.
Why don’t we just get one of those beeping lasers or light things?
But a used bookstore and ‘sundries’ shop never had the money for that kind of thing. Which also meant that his crappy job never paid him enough to do anything but pay rent and eat pizza, with the odd movie or book thrown in. And of course Dad didn’t have any money to help.
He kicked a table leg as he watched the lady go. Mom long dead and Dad doing thirty years for armed robbery in San Quentin.
What a recipe for success.
He trudged toward the counter and, snagging his book from next to the register, dropped onto the stool. He pulled out his bookmark and carefully placed it on the counter, letting a tight smile stretch his lips at the sight of the label he’d put on the bookmark. “Jake’s bookmark. Only touch if your IQ is above 140.” The others hadn’t appreciated that, but who cared? They’d been stealing his carefully collected comic-themed bookmarks for a while. Served them right if they felt insulted.
Jake turned back to his book. Hopefully no more jerks would come in. At least for a few minutes. Why did people come into this dump, anyway?
Movement caught his eye. He glanced up to see a figure—judging by the burly shoulders, it had to be a man—step out into the afternoon sunlight, the bell above the door again jabbing at his eardrums as the man disappeared down the sidewalk.
How did I not see that guy, or at least hear him come in? The guy had to be some kind of ninja to be able to cross in front of the counter going in and on his way out without Jake seeing him.
Jake cracked his book open again, but couldn’t concentrate. Curiosity about the dark figure wouldn’t let go. How had he not known that the guy was in here? And he had seemed to come from the back of the store, where all of that old junk was. They never sold any of that stuff.
Wait. Maybe the guy had stolen something.
He glanced toward the back of the store. Did it even matter? Who even kept track of that stuff? He hunched over his book again, but the thought stuck with him. Had something been stolen?
Not sure of what he was doing, or why he was doing it, Jake stood. Something tugged at him, drawing his attention to the back room where the antiques were. Not a noise—but he felt as if he could take a few steps and he would be able to hear something. Or maybe see it.
He set his book down. In seconds he had entered the ‘Sundries’ room, which was lit by a single bare fluorescent tube. The room was filled with creaky rocking chairs, mirrors in ornate frames, and prints of all ages and sizes. He approached the locked glass case that held weird old stuff. The tall urn with paintings of people standing as if they were at a party still centered the shelf. Ugly gold paint curled up and down the sides of the thing. It looked like some crummy painter had just decided to paint fancy cocktail party scenes on it.
Ugly piece of junk.
Several ragged dolls with ceramic heads, their rose-colored cheeks scuffed and faded, filled part of the space. Most of the rest of the shelf held a few cassette tapes, rusted keychains, pewter dishes, china dishes, and one strange-looking knife.
No blank spots surrounded by a thin layer of dust to indicate anything had been stolen.
Wait. A knife? He didn’t remember there being a knife in the display case.
He leaned closer.
More of a dagger, but with a surprisingly short blade. He bent, putting his weight on the glass counter. Strange looking symbols—maybe old writing?—crawled along the dark handle and double-edged blade.
The dagger seemed to shout its age.
Despite being squat and having obvious wear and staining on the handle, something about the dagger called to Jake. It’s beautiful. Kind of. In a weird way.
He rounded the glass case and checked the sliding door. Locked.
Scanning the back room, he thought of that guy who had been moving so fast out the door. Had he left this here? Why would somebody leave something instead of stealing? And how would he have unlocked the case—and then locked it again?
Jake pulled his set of employee’s keys out. A vague sense of expectation settled over him. He tried to shake it off. He unlocked the door and slid it open, reaching for the dagger with his right hand. The unheard noise from before somehow got louder, but not in his ears. It was more like a vibration that he felt in his bones.
His fingers brushed the dagger’s handle. A small electric shock coursed through his fingers and hand. He jerked back and the fuzzy shock began to fade somewhere past his elbow.
What the hell?
He rubbed the fingers of his right hand together. As the numbness passed, he felt like he’d dipped his fingers in dirty motor oil. But the unpleasant slipperiness felt like it was under his skin, making his fingertips almost loose.
He shook his hand, trying to get rid of the sensation. After a few moments, it left. His fingers finally felt normal again.
He went to slide the glass cabinet door closed, but felt his gaze pulled back to the dagger. Where had it come from? What did those symbols mean?
He pushed the door back open. What would it hurt to just pick it up? What if it shocks me again? That was stupid. Had to be a build-up from his shoes and the carpet.
But that oily feeling. The thought of feeling that set his teeth on edge—but he also wanted to feel it again. Like touching a sore spot—the sensation seemed satisfying in some way. It was probably my imagination anyway.
His eyes were drawn to the dagger again, like it was a powerful magnet and his eyes were metal marbles. Jake brushed the dagger’s handle with his fingertips. No shock. He paused, considering. He looked around again. His co-worker, Vanessa, was still on her lunch break.
Nobody would know.
He slid his fingers around the handle and pulled the knife out of the case. A vibration ran through his hand, then was gone. That oily sensation returned. Jake nearly dropped the knife back on the shelf. But the sensation actually felt satisfying now, kind of how it felt to finally get a piece of popcorn out of your teeth with a toothpick.
He caressed the knife with his eyes. This thing was awesome. It would fit in any pocket. Nobody would screw with him if he had this knife with him.
The initially cool handle had already warmed in his hand. He wrapped his fingers tightly around it; the hilt seemed to fit perfectly in Jake’s grip.
The symbols on the blade drew his attention. They had to be writing of some kind. A sudden need to know what the symbols meant struck him.
He held the dagger in front of him, the tip jabbing upward.
That demanding, pompous woman would have treated him differently if he’d had this thing. She’d have shown just how empty her life really was. And he could have helped her figure it out.
That thought drew him up. How would I do that? He thumbed across one edge of the dagger; it was razor sharp. This thing. I could use this thing to open her, show her how special she really isn’t.
This blade would do it.
He blinked, lowering the dagger. He’d been holding it with the point only inches from his eyes. Something weird about this knife. He leaned to put it back in the case, but at the last moment before he set it on the shelf, the arrogant woman’s face returned to him. Then Dad’s face, screwed up with self-pity, partially obscured by cell bars.
No. He could fix things with this knife.
People like her were a poison, making the world dank and miserable.
He blinked again. The tarnished blade had shone differently for a moment there, glinting on both edges at the same time. The dagger felt heavy and solid with age. How much injustice had it stopped? How much ugliness had it taken from the world?
His next blink seemed to last almost forever; his eyelids felt so heavy he had to force them to open.
Betrayal. That’s what filled the world. His mom dying when he was four, even though she’d promised she would be with him forever. His dad a criminal, selfishly knocking off jewelry stores to support his drug habit.
That woman, betraying the entire human race by treating people as if they were inferior to her.
Betrayal. This dagger could help him stop it.
All of it.
"The problem is that they suck." Kelsey tilted her head slightly back, fixing a dry look on Nathan.
"No," Nathan said. "They don't. The Beatles are practically the apotheosis of an entire musical, social, and cultural movement." He glanced at his reflection in the window of the mini-bus. The sun had come up, but struggled to break through the heavy clouds which still flung rain to the earth. "You can't suck and do that kind of thing."
"You can if the entirety of culture at the time is stupid." She flipped a strand of long brown hair away from her face. "And they're not gods. Oh, and good word."
"Maybe someone passing judgment on millions of people who lived decades ago might be the stupid one?" Nathan offered a wide, lopsided grin, raising his eyebrows and cocking his head to the side. “And apotheosis? Yes, thank you.”
Kelsey snorted, taking no offense. "Nope. It's them, they're stupid. And so are the Beatles." She leaned back, feigning disinterest. “And you’re welcome. It was a good word.”
The mini-bus shuddered to a stop, brakes squealing. Nathan braced himself on the seat in front of him.
"And that's coming from someone who adores K-Pop." Nathan stood and threw his satchel over his head, letting it drop so the strap crossed his chest.
Kelsey's dark green eyes narrowed. "Don't talk smack about my K-Pop now, Nate. That's sacred stuff."
Nathan threw his hands in the air, waiting for the rest of the team. "You mean their finely toned abs and perfect hair are sacred."
He and Kelsey had sat toward the back of the mini-bus as usual. She didn't really get along with Glenda and Annie, and seemed to have no interest in Don and Chris, the other male interns on the team. Maybe it’s because I’m older. Kelsey had struck him as more mature than the others from day one.
Everyone took a few moments to gather their things, securing parkas tightly before venturing into the rain. Two early-rising vendors, miserable and bedraggled-looking, pushed by between the group and the mini-bus. Nathan watched them go, for a moment almost feeling the strain of pushing their carts through the rain. What a life.
"Like I said." Kelsey leered at Nathan. "Toned abs. Sacred stuff."
"For a self-declared tomboy, you sure seem a little preoccupied with men's torsos." Nathan wiggled his eyebrows.
"Being a tomboy doesn't mean I'm blind. As all three of my older brothers learned when we played paintball," Kelsey said.
"Dead-eye Kelsey, they called you."
"No, they just complained that I always aimed below the belt."
They both burst into laughter.
"Oh yeah, and I always hit what I aimed for." She fixed him with an appraising look and pointed a finger at Nathan's face.
Nathan smiled at her and laughed again. "Kids today." He gestured to let her go ahead of him.
"Kids? Ha!" Her voice floated over her shoulder as she led the way into the rain. "You're like two years older. Just because you speak, what, ninety languages and have been to every freaking continent—"
"Not Antarctica," Nathan said.
"Whatever. That doesn't mean you're an adult. You're just more—" she stopped, throwing him a teasing look. "Seasoned. Like a mummy. Stiff and dry."
"Shut up." Nathan peered through the rain at his phone, keeping it inside the flap of his parka. Just past 7:30AM. When was this rain going to stop? "Besides, it's five languages, not ninety."
"Yeah, five of the hardest languages on the planet." Kelsey ducked through an archway that was barely visible through the downpour. She led the way among dark, blocky shapes, mounds, and gaping holes, rain bucketing down on all sides, seeming to muffle the world.
"Spanish isn't hard," Nathan said. "Farsi, now that's a hard one."
"What are you doing slumming with a bunch of archaeologists anyway?" Kelsey's voice was harder to make out through the pounding of the torrent from the skies. The rain filled every sense: soaking him completely; clogging his ears; filling his nostrils with a musky, deep scent; making it nearly impossible to see anything beyond fuzzy shapes.
Kelsey had to shout to be heard. "Shouldn't you be, like, the president or something?"
"Ha! You first!"
Kelsey's laughter squeezed through the raindrops.
After a few more minutes of sodden misery, Nathan saw the shape that was Kelsey swallowed into a darker, much wider shape. He slowed and felt forward with his right foot, finding the step that led to the project site. He eased down the sloppy, muddy steps into the dark entrance and saw the shapes of the team not too far ahead, flashlights jittering across walls of sandstone and the floor that sloped downward.
By the time Nathan arrived at the site, he was certain he would find the rest of the team slogging through at least a foot of water. But, maybe by some invisible and ingenious design, any rain that came in through the entrance was channeled away from the tomb where the team was working.
The site steward, a local man by the name of Fadil, shuffled past Nathan, no doubt heading home after his long night guarding the team's work.
Not for the first time, Nathan wished he would remember to buy a flashlight. Thankfully, the need for illumination ended as Chris and Glenda turned on the site lamps, mid-sized halogen lamps that cast bluish light throughout the surprisingly spacious chamber.
The team proceeded to remove parkas, piling them on top of some canvas cloth and such draped over a box.
"See here, Dr. Hintze," Dr. James' voice cut through the conversations of the interns and the noise of equipment being sorted. Nathan set his parka on top of the sodden pile and gazed around the ancient tomb, picturing for a moment what it might have looked like when it was first built.
Probably very similar, given the almost perfectly preserved intricate murals painted and carved into the stone walls.
"Now, Dr. Hintze and Dr. Thomas, where were we? Somewhere around here?" James gestured at the wall nearest him, holding a third lamp. "The rest of you please listen. We’ve come to a confident determination as to whose tomb this is." James tilted his head back to peer through the bottom of his glasses. It looked as if he were using his nose to aim his line of sight. "As we saw yesterday, this story is much more than a narrative." James lifted the lamp higher.
Intrigued, Nathan stepped closer, happy to let the chest in the northwest corner wait for a moment or two. The other interns also turned from their work stations, pale blue light from the halogen lamps spreading odd shadows on their faces.