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1

Egypt, 30 BC

 

Egypt is in mourning. Queen Cleopatra is dead.

While the nation wept for its departed Queen, Neferu watched, careful not to look like he was watching. Hidden in the shadows, he sat on a rock under one of the mature palms overlooking the temple where the god Osiris had been buried many years before.

In the distance, far below the steep bluffs, the Mediterranean—blue, black, and mysterious—shimmered in the early light. Neferu quickly unwrapped the goatskin that held his breakfast of bread and fish. His eagerness stemmed more from deceit than ravenous hunger—a free Egyptian workman lazing in the shade in the middle of the morning was bound to raise suspicions in normal circumstances, and even more so given the scene below him. Neferu studied carefully, his deep black, prying eyes fixated on the hundreds of Roman soldiers pouring into the area. Some came by sea, and others by land, invading the sacred temple of Taposiris Magna. Whether they were an entire legion, cohorts, or centuries, Neferu wasn't sure; he was a skilled stone-carver, not a military man, and like most Egyptians, he avoided the Romans like death itself in spite of their recent alliance.

Turning his attention back to the goatskin, Neferu ate; suddenly very hungry now the food lay in front of him. He'd been up all night without food, and only a little water. When he had finished, he glanced over at the nearby well, where a dozen women patiently filled their water carriers and gossiped about the commotion nearby.

Neferu smiled. He could tell them a story all right: about Queen Cleopatra and her Roman lover, Mark Antony—about how they had escaped the legions of the great emperor Octavian and ultimately committed suicide rather than submit to Roman rule. Neferu calculated that by then the wives, housekeepers, and slaves at the well had heard the rumors of Antony and Cleopatra's bodies being smuggled out of Alexandria down the coast to this place, Per Usiri, "Dwelling of Osiris"—a mere one-night's journey for strong oars in the water. The Romans knew, as did Neferu, that it was no rumor. The revered queen would want her body to rest here, next to her most beloved god, Osiris, and lover, Antony.

But that was not to be...

Neferu shook his head in disgust at what he saw happening at the temple: priests inviting the soldiers in, guiding them, directing them to the tomb and the sarcophagus in a futile attempt to save their own necks.

That's okay. Neferu said to himself. They'll soon pay for their treason. The priests would open the sarcophagus enthusiastically, he was sure, but all they would find was an empty shell. Much like Egypt without her rightful ruler, he thought.

Anger would erupt—recriminations, bloodshed, and torture would all be rife.

Neferu tried not to think about it. He knew it was within his power to save all those lives and avoid all that pain, but he wouldn't so much as lift a finger. This would be something he'd have to live with. He and the gods would deal with all that misery, death, and guilt at a later date. Right then, Neferu’s belief was firm; he didn't—couldn't—care how many priests needed to die, the secret had to be kept at all costs.

Neferu turned his eyes to the well once more. The women dispersed, sensing the storm to come, and displaying their instinct for survival—an African trait given by the true gods as a shield against centuries of European and Middle Eastern invasion.

Despite the danger of being so close to such massive outpourings of rage, Neferu longed to be inside the temple to see the hollow box be opened, and watch the faces of the centurions and legionaries staring in shock at its emptiness.

I should have left them something. Neferu chuckled to himself. A pomegranate, a boar's foot, or perhaps a Roman soldier's ear!

He laughed audibly at the thought of their reactions, then rolled up his goatskin and walked away, taking a quick drink from the well as he passed. He intended to put as much distance as he could between himself and the Roman troops, who would now spread out through the city, killing and torturing in a desperate search to find the bodies of Neferu's beloved Queen and her lover.

Already, the screams of the priests inside the temple pierced the air. Some would be killed immediately, others after torture.

None of those priests would talk. None of them knew a thing.

Neferu hadn't told them.

2

Woodburn Hall, West Virginia University

 

"It's just you and the ghosts." Brook Burlington told herself, her voice strong and determined.

The place was supposed to be haunted.

"I'm onto you, ghosts! And I just want you to know that you don't scare me" she added.

She had been attempting to put the phantoms on notice, but instead found herself making a mental note to stop soliloquizing like this – it was a bad habit of hers that was proving tough to break, ghosts or no ghosts.

"Isn't that right, Saqqara?"

The golden retriever at Brook's feet didn't even open her eyes.

"Okay, I deserve that," Brook confessed. "I'm not really alone. You're here, aren't you, girl?" Brook scratched the spot behind the dog's ear. Again, she yielded no reaction.

Brook wasn't sure what she'd do if she couldn't talk to her dog either.

Out of nowhere, the computer on her desk chimed, and despite herself, she jumped.

A two-word e-mail glowed on the screen: ‘CALL ME.’

The clock said 12:14 a.m. By rights, Brook should have ignored the command out of plain old self-respect. Sure, it wasn't uncommon for an assistant professor to work long hours, and true, most nights Brook could be found in this tiny, windowless office, but this was Friday night, date-night, and she was young, attractive, and single, so to respond this late, especially to this particular sender, whose name was so familiar…

The computer chimed again, a second e-mail, this one a photo. Neglecting to open it, she cast a hesitant glance at her companion.

"What do you think, Saqqara? Should I call him?"

The dog looked up, yawned, and pretended to sleep.

"You're right. We need to go home. Come on, let's go." Brook stood, situated her fedora on top of her red hair, slipped into her leather jacket, and located her purse, messenger bag, and Saqqara's leash. Still, the photo intrigued her. Taken from Cairo, as day was breaking. The sender was Ali Rahman, a major annoyance, but almost as intriguing.

After all, this was the reason Brook Burlington suffered long hours in the three-story red brick building, constructed a few years after the Civil War. Before the invention of heat, light, comfort and air-conditioning, as she often remarked.

She hated enclosed spaces, and she feared the ghosts, but there were also moments of discovery, excitement, and new findings.

Brook picked up the phone, risking the humiliation, but staying on her feet, preparing to walk away at the slightest provocation.

"Brook! I did not expect to hear back from you so quickly—" came the answer from halfway around the world.

"What am I looking at?” Brook interrupted.

"Burning the candle at both ends again, I see," Ali observed.

Brook took a breath. Leave it to Ali Rahman to rub it in.

"Ali, could you please—"

"I know. It's late, you're tired, and you don't have time for my little games."

"Something like that."

"Working on anything interesting?"

"Not unless you're interested in a faculty committee presentation for next year's research priorities, due on Monday," Brook shot back. Not entirely true, but Ali didn't need to know that.

"For Professor Green, I suppose," Ali guessed.

"That's right."

"Still head of the department?"

"Right again," Brook replied. Why was Ali going on about this?

"How is the old tightwad?" he inquired, as though reading her mind.

"The same. He asked about you not long ago." Flattery was always helpful when it came to Ali.

"Well, it's good to know someone misses me."

Brook paused, suffering the awkward silence that followed. Her and Ali's shared past was not something she was prepared to deal with at that moment. Talk about ghosts!

"The photograph..." Brook reminded him, hoping desperately to change the subject before silence swallowed her.

"Yes, the photograph," Ali echoed, clearing his throat. "The photograph is a satellite image of a site I have been investigating. The Supreme Council of Antiquities has approved my request to pursue my investigation in more depth."

"Good for you."

"But..."

"Let me guess—you need funding," Brook chuckled.

"You always could see right through me, Brook."

She tutted—asking her to allocate more of her already-limited budget to him was a stretch too far, even for Ali.

"I wouldn't ask," Ali rushed, reading her mind again, "unless I thought we were really onto something. The preliminary underground radar scans are very encouraging."

Brook took off her hat and sat back down. This wouldn't be something Ali would exaggerate about. He was a great many things, but dishonest? In matters of the heart, maybe, but not when it came to work. Brook took another look at the screen.

"Have you shown anyone else these pictures?" Brook asked.

"Just the Council. They’ve seen both the radar images and the satellite photos."

"And their assessment?"

"They think the site might be linked to the Battle of El Alamein. Perhaps a storage bunker or a secondary fighting position."

Brook zoomed in on various sections of the photo. El Alamein, approximately 150 miles northwest of Cairo, on the Mediterranean coast, was the site of a decisive World War II battle that had halted Rommel's Afrika Korps' advance.

"Since when are you interested in the war?" Brook asked.

"I'm not," Ali admitted.

"You want to go south," Brook suggested. "El Alamein is just the bait."

"You have a devious mind, BB," Ali answered, using the pet name he had invented for her long ago. She once had mixed feelings about it, but now it made her cringe. El Alamein wasn't exactly in the middle of nowhere, but not far from it lay nothing but hundreds of miles of Saharan desert to the south.

"Why would there be anything there?" Brook wanted to know, sensing that there was more to the story.

Sure enough, there came no reply.

"Ali?"

"I'm not sure."

"You're not sure." One thing Brook was sure of was that Ali was never unsure.

What was going on?

"That's why I need your help, Brook."

Okay, here it comes, Brook knew. Flattery worked both ways, after all.

"So far, all I can say is that we've found a massive hollow near the escarpment about twenty miles south of El Alamein."

"I can see that," Brook agreed.

"Between you and me, I am quite sure it's a burial site."

"Seriously?"

"One hundred percent."

"Highly unlikely," Brook stated flatly. "Nothing links that area to Egyptians, Greeks, Romans—"

"I think they're wrong, Brook."

"You think...?"

"Yes, I do. I think it might be her. And him. You know who I'm talking about."

Brook sighed, skeptical. If she was lonely, perhaps Ali was too. But enough to hatch some imagined find to bring them back together?

"I'm not kidding around," Ali offered, again getting her emotions right on the nose. He was always good at that. Maybe he is my soulmate, she thought, alarm shooting like hundreds of volts down her spine.

"I'm very sincere," Ali stated.

"Now that's not true," Brook couldn't resist saying.

"About this," Ali whispered.

Brook had nothing to say—the contrition in his voice threw her for a loop. She cursed herself briefly. Get it together!

"Get to the point, please, Ali," Brook answered in her most businesslike tone.

"If you help me with the research," Ali went on, switching tone instantly, pitching hard "with your family's reputation and the backing of an American university, I know we can get the funding." He audibly became more sheepish as he spoke, backing off a little, and not asking for the actual money, only her blessing, her family's blessing, the blessing of the school—it wouldn't end there.

"I went on a date tonight," Brook blurted out, covering the phone afterwards, checking with Saqqara, who stared back, accusing her of lying. "What did I just say?" she mouthed to the dog.

"Oh," Ali said at the other end. Is he surprised? Taken aback? Devastated? Brook couldn't tell. "How did it go?"

Ah. Being kind.

"Who cares? I don't care...I just, you know, mention it because I'm starting a relationship here in the States, and I want to give it room to grow. I'm not sure I can make time to take on other projects..." She was babbling now, like an idiot.

"No, sure, I understand," Ali said at the other end, his voice dripping with the kind of humility Brook didn't buy for one single second. "But if you see a way to squeeze me in..."

She breathed a momentary sigh of relief at his tone. There it was, the sarcasm, the old Ali.

"Okay, here's what I can do," Brook stated firmly, getting back to business, placing her feet solidly on the ground. "Send me all you've got in terms of photographs, along with a preliminary proposal and a budget prelim, too. I can start looking at funding options—"

"Oh, thank you—"

"I may use the World War Two angle, I may not."

"Of course," Ali agreed, "any way you want to handle it."

"I can't promise anything."

"I know."

"It's not easy to get money right now."

"Believe me, I know."

"I'm not exactly at the top of the tree here, either," Brook stated miserably, regretting it.

"I'm sure you're very well-respected, BB."

"Don't call me that."

"My apologies—"

"Good bye," Brook interrupted, hanging up before they could get into something else, be it more flattery, false humility, or pretending.

"Ali again—are you nuts?" she wondered to herself aloud.

Saqqara cocked an ear and raised an eyebrow. Her eyes—one blue, one brown—accused Brook of all sorts of insane misbehavior.

"You talkin' to the ghosts or you talkin' to me?" those dog eyes wanted to know.

"Don't judge me," Brook admonished the apparently comprehending canine. "Don't you judge me."

3

Taposiris Magna, Egypt, 30 BC

 

"Someone must have talked."

The news came to Neferu early in the morning as the stone carver began a small garden sculpture honoring the Emperor Octavian. As bad as the invasion had been for both the well-being and proud history of Egypt, it was turning out to be good for Neferu's business—every aristocrat with Roman sympathies or fantasies of self-preservation was now commissioning works of art honoring their new leader. Images of Neferu's beloved Cleopatra and her ancestors, as well as their higher relatives, the gods themselves, would soon be knocked down, destroyed, and ground into dust.

"They first came to our priest friend, the one with the limp," the slim messenger whispered.

Neferu tried not to react—the priest was Neferu's dear, lifelong friend and loyal subject to the Egyptian empire and culture.

The messenger drew a short line across his own skinny neck. Neferu stayed silent for a moment, out of respect.

"It doesn't matter," Neferu forced himself to say aloud. "The secret is too important. I know my priest friend did not talk." Despite the firmness in his voice, he could not stop his tone from rising. It was a question, not a certainty.

The messenger shrugged. He had no idea. "The troops are massed to the south..." he suggested, searching Neferu's face for information.

Perhaps he seeks to sell my knowledge elsewhere?

Neferu's features hardened, yielding no more expression than one of his stone busts of the hated Octavian.

"Thank you," he said, slipping the messenger a coin.

When the slender young runner was out of sight, Neferu put down his hammer and chisel, took off his apron, and called to his first apprentice. "Back soon."

The messenger hadn't been wrong. To the south of the city, at the edge of the desert, around 200 Roman soldiers sat on their horses, ready to ride into the hot sands. Ahead, just disappearing in a cloud of dust, the same number of infantry rode onward.

Groups of Egyptians stood and watched from a safe distance. Neferu wandered near, listening to their gossip; rife with rumors concerning the missing bodies of Cleopatra and Antony.

"...A priest told them they were taken into the desert."

"...There's a map, I hear."

"...They'll find them."

"...Burn them, tear their bodies to pieces and toss them to the wind."

"...Stinking rats."

"...Quiet. If you want to keep breathing."

Neferu wandered off, as if he didn't care one way or another—as if it was none of his business. He heard the order for the horsemen to move out, and the pounding of the horses' hooves on his beloved homeland reverberated like a war-hammer to his chest. As the sound faded, a wry smile formed on Neferu's lips. Only he knew that the soldiers were marching in the wrong direction.

4

Morgantown, WV

 

More photos were coming in. Interesting. Intriguing. Exciting.

Brook had felt that way about Ali himself once.

Saqqara repositioned herself next to her owner, settling in for a long session, as Brook jumped up and paced her tiny office like a lioness in a cage. She'd never get to sleep now—this second wind had forced her wide awake.

"Khamsin," Brook said aloud, recalling the hot, dry, and sometimes deadly wind of the Sahara.

A faint, pacing sound interrupted her thoughts. It came from the darkened hall.

Rap. Rap. Rap.

Brook froze. Woodburn's ghost? The floorboards beneath her feet vibrated. The sound grew louder still, closing in. Brook looked to the dog, prodding her gently with her foot.

Saqqara refused to wake up, growl, bark, run to the source of the sound, or generally make any move to protect Brook.

"Saqqara! Go see what it is!" Brook hissed.

The dog shifted slightly, still refusing to act. Brook sighed, exasperated. Didn't dogs sense ghosts? Weren’t dogs afraid of ghosts, or were ghosts afraid of dogs?

Reassuring herself—there are no such things as ghosts—Brook opened the door a crack and tried to slide Saqqara out into the hall, which Saqqara clearly felt was ridiculous. The dog stood, headed in the opposite direction, and found a new place to nap.

The sound rose, clearer now—footsteps. Brook closed the door but couldn't lock it. It needed an ancient key, lost to the ages. Brook had once snickered at the irony of the fact that an entire faculty of skilled archeologists hadn't been able to unearth a door key.

Shivering with real fear, Brook crept to her desk and grabbed the heavyweight reading lamp—brass, steel, and every inch a possible murder weapon—and prepared to bash in the skull of the first phantom through the door.

It's 1 a.m. on a Saturday; whatever's roaming the halls can't be up to any good!

The knocks on the door hit Brook like gunshots. Rap rap rap. A pause before the door creaked open.

"Hello, there." Rather than a ghost, Professor Stuart Green peered around the doorframe. Not a ghost, but with tousled white hair, wrinkled skin, and pale, pointed features suggested he could have passed for one. The British accent, lingering after all these years, reminded Brook of Marley's ghost enough on its own.

"I hope I didn't scare you." Professor Green commented, eyeing the ten-pound weapon in Brook's hand.

"No," Brook lied, allowing herself to breathe again before putting the lamp down. "Not at all."

"I tried to knock and call out at the front entrance—"

"It's okay."

"A bit late, even for a junior staffer like you, isn't it?" Professor Green remarked, stepping inside a little, but politely keeping his distance.

Yeah, and what are you doing here? Brook wanted to ask. Her previous thought came back to her. This time of night, probably up to no good.

"Just leaving, actually," Brook announced, packing up again quickly, putting on her hat. "C'mon, Saq. Let's go."

Now Saqqara woke up, stood to attention, tail wagging, and pranced up to Professor Green.

Traitor, Brook thought. The dog had never found him quite as creepy as she had.

"Hey, girl," the professor soothed, finding that spot behind Saqqara's ear.

Charming, really, a boy and his dog.

In his mid-60s, there'd been talk of mandatory retirement, but there were also rumors that an exception had been made in the esteemed Professor Stuart Green's case. As he lingered in the doorway, Brook wondered if he planned to spend the rest of his tenure right there in that spot. She considered what exactly she'd do to get by the old man.

Maybe you shouldn't have put down that lamp.

"Come, Saqqara. Come."

"Ah, Saqqara," Green commented. "Named after a graveyard."

Sacred resting grounds of kings and queens, Brook thought, but she decided not to correct him out loud.

The dog reluctantly returned. Brook hooked up the leash, and Saqqara seemed to instantly feel her owner’s tension down that short length of leather, straightening to stand at full attention. As much as she respected the tenured professor—his success, his ambition, his driving thirst for knowledge—Brook didn't like being alone with him, an attitude Saqqara understood, but if the previous few minutes were anything to go by, didn't share.

Brook was pretty sure that under the tweed, Green was rugged, strong, sly, and tough. Years of digs under the hot sun, living rough, and battling unpleasantness—both environmental and human—had given the man a crusty patina reminiscent of the antiquities Brook had been fortunate enough to uncover in her career.

Like a mummy, Brook shuddered, yet knew the comparison wasn’t quite right. No, like your father. She shuddered again at the thought.

"See you Monday, Professor Green," Brook stated forcefully, taking control of her body and marching forward, the messenger bag at her side ready as a weapon if necessary.

To her surprise, he simply stepped aside.

Thank God.

"Have a good night." he replied opening the door and letting the two females go first; a gallant, old school gesture which Professor Green still managed to make seem inappropriate. He closed the office door after they were out in the hall. "Still no key for this one, eh?" Despite his jovial tone, it felt like a threat, a warning—Maybe I'll just shove into your office anytime I want.

Brook hurried Saqqara down the wrong set of stairs, choosing to go the long way around the building to faculty parking in order to head in the opposite direction to Professor Green. She slipped into her car and sped out of the lot, suddenly aware of her quickened, pounding heartbeat.

"The men in your life!" Brook intoned like a movie-trailer announcer. "In a battle of you versus them, who will survive?"

Saqqara awarded Brook’s dramatics a blank stare, crawled into the back seat, and went back to sleep.

The drive home only took a couple of minutes. The streets were dark and empty, even in the center of town, though a few students still gathered outside of a couple of the bars. Brook drove south on Pleasant Street, past the high school football stadium and into the leafy safety of South Park. She turned into her driveway on Grand Street and entered her home… which she would not leave for three whole days.

5

Taposiris Magna, Egypt, 30 BC

 

The Romans marched straight into the desert and were never seen again. Neferu was one of the The Romans marched straight into the desert and were never seen again. Neferu was one of the last people to see them, though it was nothing he could ever speak of.

He returned to his workshop and resumed work on the garden statue of Octavian, giving it his best, and comparing his work to drawings of the great leader, studying the kind, piercing eyes, the dimpled skin, and the curly locks carefully. Everything about the job disgusted Neferu, but he did it for the greater good, and in the Roman style he despised, although it would sicken him to the day of his death.

Neferu was a religious man, worshipping at the Osiris temple every day. Like most Egyptians, he understood his inherent unimportance. The sun was important, the moon, the sea, the stars, the rivers, and especially the Nile, but Neferu's religion only recognized one living person: The Pharaoh. Only the Pharaoh possessed some semblance of freedom outside the daily desires, needs, whims, and fears of the gods. The gods determined everything, and only the Pharaoh could intervene on behalf of lowly earthlings, whether by begging, demanding, cajoling, or tricking. His was a religion of scarcity, of order. There was no time for deviation of thought, individuality, or differing points of view—not if civilization were to survive.

***

Forty-five years later, Neferu lay on the stone bed, cool in the shade, nearing death but comfortable in the knowledge that as a young man he'd helped preserve his Pharaoh's body, and placed it in a safe place from which the esteemed Cleopatra could continue, even in death, to ensure the regular order of the sun, moon, stars, soil, rivers, seas, and mankind itself.

Neferu had outlived Octavian by a year. Many of Neferu's students and coworkers secretly congratulated him on this feat, but Neferu knew that wasn't his greatest triumph. That would be maintaining the secret, the one held through his own lifetime, one which was destined to remain secret for another two thousand years.

"Let me see the sky," Neferu requested, his once-strong voice giving way. His admirers, many of them elderly themselves, and ranging from former students to apprentices and artistic and business associates—stepped back, giving Neferu an unfettered view of a sky so blue it rivalled the Mediterranean, and the heavens where Neferu dared to hope he would soon be welcomed by Osiris himself.

A skinny old man at Neferu’s head bent down to whisper to him. "You did well, my friend. You did well."

He was the messenger from that fateful day who had told Neferu about his priest friend's death, and the Roman army amassed to the south. Even through watery eyes, Neferu was sure the man hadn't gained a pound in the many years since.

"Thank you," Neferu rasped to his old friend. "I'm glad I didn't kill you that day."

The old man smiled. "I'm very grateful."

They'd laughed about it. That day when the bodies left the city and Neferu had watched the soldiers march out to look for them, he had been vaguely aware of the slim messenger some fifty cubits behind him. A better, more experienced spy would have waited to ambush and slit the throat of the tail quickly and silently, but Neferu had never been like that. In fact, that had been Neferu's first experience of anything like espionage. His skills were centered in carving, from faces and expressions to muscle and bone. Rendering flesh in stone. Though praised as a sculptor, Neferu had never reached the pinnacle of success, preferring sleepy Taposiris Magna to the heights of Cairo, Alexandria, or even Rome, where several of his students had gained fame and fortune. No, Neferu hadn't travelled far in his life. This would be his greatest journey.

He'd been married to a faithful, long-necked woman of known beauty, who bore him two sons and a daughter. He had lived a good life, and took comfort in being a good Guardian. Thanks to him, despite this temporary setback at the hands of the Romans, the glory of Egypt would live on, in this world and the next. He would die having been loyal to the gods and their Pharaohs. Dying had never frightened Neferu; he knew exactly where he was going.

6

Morgantown, WV

 

If Ali Rahman was trying to entice Brook Burlington back to the Middle East, he'd picked the perfect bait to dangle from the hook. Brook had made no secret of her fascination—no, obsession—with the whereabouts of the final resting place of Queen Cleopatra and Mark Antony. In fact, Brook had devoted most of her professional life to the search, to the point of mockery.

"Find her yet?" Brook's colleagues had started to ask instead of "Good morning." "Cleo? Cleo? You in there?" they'd tease her when opening a cabinet or refrigerator door.

"They do it out of love," Brook had told Saqqara, though she wasn’t too sure herself once they had gone through the routine for the millionth time.

She sipped coffee in her coziest robe and fired up her beloved laptop.

‘CALL ME’ was the first message she saw. Ali.

Despite her determination, the lure of an answer was just too strong, and Brook reached for her phone. She was like her father in her obsessiveness. He had been a deep-sea diver and treasure-hunter, a single-minded individual with great skills. And no self-control, Brook reminded herself, looking around the place. Piles of dishes filled the sink, and clothes were left strewn on the floor. She'd let it all go, determined to get to the bottom of Ali's information in order to compare it to her own. It had felt more like three days in the wilderness than three days at home.

"Brook!" Ali answered on the first ring as evening dawned in Cairo.

She couldn’t help but let a low, dramatic urgency creep into her voice. "I made a breakthrough."

"Seriously? What?"

Brook hesitated. "It's complicated.”. She wasn’t thinking this through. Would she have to sit down and write it all out? Compile a scholarly paper; complete with a thesis, argument, proof, and all?

"Brook?"

"Okay," Brook sighed, sitting. "You remember the old bust of Octavian I told you about last year?"

"Vaguely."

"There's an inscription on the bottom."

"Right—'you are me and I am you and we are all together—'"

"No. That's the Beatles," Brook sighed, not in the mood for Ali's jokes. "Roughly," she growled, "the inscription translates: 'Find me and you find her and you find him'. Signed by the sculptor."

"And you think that means...?"

"If I can't find Cleopatra, maybe I can find the mummy of this stone carver to lead me to her."

"Okay," Ali said simply, Brook could hear the skepticism in his voice.

"Don't you see? Your site south of Taposiris Magna could be the place, and if I could locate the stone carver's tomb—"

"Stop," Ali cut her off. "Don't tell me. Tell Professor Green. Convince him. Get the money. Come over here. We'll find her this time—you and me—together. I know it."

Brook swallowed. She dreaded another meeting with Green. She'd already put him off on the committee presentation, convincing him to give her another week. He'd made no comment about it, no snide remark, but Brook knew that was only because the old man was saving his ammunition for the full firing squad.

"Okay, Ali, I'll try," Brook announced with whatever force she could muster. "Bye."

She hung up and spent the next hour gathering her forces, organizing her pitch, and preparing herself for what she knew would be an epic battle.

Professor Green didn't think much of Brook, of that she was certain. He thought her scatterbrained and overly dramatic, and had said as much on occasion. By extension, he didn't consider her interest in Cleopatra and Mark Antony worth the effort. At worst, Brook suspected Green didn't think she deserved her professorship. He probably thought it was the result of some sort of affirmative action; or worse, on account of her looks, sexual attractiveness, and “feminine wiles”.

Brook laughed, choking. Once again she had let her imagination run wild. She marched herself around her living room, sashaying, displaying her wiles to all the imaginary takers in the empty room.

Saqqara was not amused, but it loosened Brook immeasurably.

She recognized the Professor Stuart Green type—the kind of crusty old academic who roams the halls of many an institution of higher learning; who once showed promise but never achieved the level they aspired to, and as a result were bitter and no longer pretended to have any patience for younger faculty, let alone the students themselves.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

JT Osbourne is the pen name of a writer who has worked in the financial services industry for the last 15 years. Always fascinated by the Grand Tour, he has lived on four continents, has visited over 50 countries, cruised the Nile, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Fuji, and has searched for lost tombs in Egypt. He calls Toronto, Canada, home. The Lost Tomb of Cleopatra is his first novel.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Egypt is such a unique destination, and as soon as I arrived there I knew it would make the perfect setting of a book that blended historical fiction and modern-day adventure and discovery. When I researched the mystery of Cleopatra's tomb, I knew it was an obvious subject!
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
While I'd like each story to stand-alone, book two will tell the next stage of Brook's journey and will take her to a number of historic locales, including Jordan and Turkey. She might even end up in Russia, too... Right now I'm anticipating a series of four books, with the possibility of more.
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
I always imagined Brook being played by Anna Kendrick and Tom Manor being played by a fellow Canadian Patrick J Adams (Mike Ross from Suits).

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