MatchUp, p.33Lee Child
did not destroy, time has built over.”
Hauck pointed at a tall column amid a walled-in field of white marble rubble. “What’s that?”
“That is Pompey’s Pillar,” Nabila said. She pulled to a stop and turned to face all her guests. “You know the famous Roman consul? The Romans appointed him as Cleopatra’s guardian. She hated him though. He fought Caesar and Anthony. When he was on the run from Caesar, he was assassinated here. His bones are rumored to be under the pillar, but in fact—”
“He’s not,” Harper interrupted.
“Not what?” asked Hauck.
“There’s no one buried there. No bones, no bone powder.”
“In fact, as I was about to say,” Nabila said stiffly, turning to her, “you are right. It is now known that Pompey is not in fact buried inside the tomb. And also—”
“It’s not even a pillar,” Harper said. “It’s round. Pillars have sides. It’s a column.”
“Yes,” Nabila said, with a glance at Hauck, “that’s what I was about to say. It’s a column. Everything about it is incorrect.”
Hauck grunted to himself. He was not a big fan of what he’d seen so far of the Winterses’ consultant. Psychic bone detector?
“Maybe it’s time for an Egyptian coffee,” Nabila said, and started driving again. The car pulled up at a street-side café. “We are here. This is the Internet café that Ms. Winters patronized.”
Inside, the place looked a lot like an American Internet café. Lots of young people sitting at the small tables, using their laptops. The click of the keys was louder than the conversation.
They all ordered coffees.
Tolliver and Harper, who hadn’t eaten, ordered a Greek salad and chicken in yogurt sauce.
“Be careful of the salad,” Nabila warned. “You never know how things are washed.”
“No, we are good, madame,” the waiter said. “You see, tourist menu.”
“Very well,” she said. “Still.”
A tall, lanky young man of about twenty-five with a mop of light brown hair wearing a soccer T-shirt and jeans approached the table.
“You may sit,” the inspector said, waving him to a seat. “This is Ivo Karilic. He works here. In the evenings, correct?”
“Night manager,” the youth said in a hard-to-read European accent.
“Ivo was Stephanie’s friend. He was here the night she disappeared,” Nabila told Hauck. She turned to Ivo. “These people were hired by her family to look into her whereabouts. Ivo, why don’t you tell them what you told me?”
The man tossed back his wavy hair. He was good looking and knew it. “We were friends. Stephanie was a good girl. Everyone liked her. Lots of students hang out here. We give them free Internet and some music they know. I saw her that night. She was with her usual friends. Tina, one of her roommates. Francois, I think she worked with. But I heard he’s left and gone back to France.”
“Something we should follow up on?” Hauck asked Nabila.
“We did, of course. As it turns out, Francois remained here until two a.m. that night. He never left.”
“He was fond of her,” the restaurant manager said. “We all were.”
“How fond?” Tolliver seemed to have decided to join the conversation. His sister was distracted again, tiny twitches in her face and hands indicating she was listening to other voices.
Or other bones.
Ivo looked at Tolliver doubtfully. “You are a little young to be with the police.”
“True,” Hauck said. “But it’s a fair question, so answer.”
“Like I told Inspector Honsi,” Ivo said. “Once, back in the fall, we hooked up. Stephanie and I.”
“Only once?” Hauck added a lot of skepticism into his voice.
“One night. She wasn’t into the whole boyfriend scene. She was only going to be here a year. She was serious about her work. Nothing interfered. That’s the truth.”
“When’s the last time you and she hooked up?”
“Only that once, months ago. I have a girlfriend now. Flora. She’s Albanian. She works nights with me.”
“Anyone else have an interest in Ms. Winters?” Hauck asked. “An interest she didn’t return?”
“You must be kidding. Everyone is all over everyone here. They’re students. They’re here for a while, in Egypt, and then they go. It’s the song of the Nile.”
Hauck said, “We’re not on the Nile.”
“Someone’s song then. All the foreigners here are temporary, like me.”
The salad and chicken came.
“You guys want a beer?” Ivo asked, returning to his professional manner.
“No thanks,” Harper said.
“I’ll have one,” Tolliver said.
“If I were you, I’d watch the lettuce,” Nabila warned him again. “Maybe stay with the tomatoes and cheese.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, lifting his fork. “I have a cast-iron stomach.”
Nabila shook her head, with a glance toward Hauck. “What is it you say? Famous last words.”
THEY WALKED A FEW MINUTES before getting back in the car. From their position on a natural rise in the land, Nabila pointed out the location on the water where the famous Pharos Lighthouse had stood on a promontory, maybe an island? Hauck couldn’t tell.
“It was one of the wonders of the ancient world,” she said. “But it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1480. “It isn’t far from the location of our famous library.”
“Can we please get going?” Harper said, after taking in the view. “You said we could go to where she lived?”
“Of course,” the inspector said. “This way back to the car.”
Harper turned and had taken a couple of steps before she stopped. Her face completely pale.
Tolliver leaped to her side.
Hauck grabbed her by the arm to keep her from hitting the ground. Her face had turned pasty, her eyes glazed and rolled up in her head.
“The food?” Nabila said anxiously. “I warned you.”
“No.” Harper shook her head as Hauck helped her back into a standing position. “It’s not the food. This is different. Something’s here.”
“Meaning what?” Hauck pressed, helping her over to a parked car where she could lean.
Tolliver said, “Dead people.”
“Stephanie?” Nabila asked. “Here?”
“No.” Harper laid a hand to her head and blew out her cheeks. “Ten times stronger. A hundred times. Something’s here. I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like it. It’s as if my legs just gave out.” Her color was still bad. She took a couple of deep breaths, trying to regain her composure. Then she pointed away from the harbor, blinking, a look of determination creeping on her face. “What’s over there?”
“It’s just a park,” Hauck said, looking at a fenced-in area behind a short wall against a hillside with a small stone building in the center.
“No, it’s not a park,” replied Nabila. “It’s Kom el Shoqafa. It means Mound of Shards. The catacombs.”
“From the first century AD. It was a burial place for ancient Romans.” They all stared at her. “There were once hundreds of bodies discovered there. But they’re all a hundred feet underground.”
Harper still looked ashen and weak. She turned to Tolliver. “I’ve never felt anything that powerful in my life.”
“Is Stephanie there?” Tolliver asked.
Hauck could see that the man was a true believer. No doubt his sister was for real.
“Nothing modern. Can you help me? I want to get a little closer.”
With Hauck on one arm and Tolliver on the other, they helped Harper walk to the grounds’ entrance. A tour bus was parked nearby.
“This is the strongest feeling I’ve ever felt. There must have been hundreds buried here? Thousands.”
“That’s right.” Nabila regarded her with astonishment. “But you have to know, the bodies are all gon
Harper gingerly walked over to the site. Struggling against the weakness that seemed to overwhelm her, she slowly seemed to gather herself. Then she just stared at the tomb for a long time.
“You say they dug this out in levels?”
Nabila nodded. “The last one was years ago. A hundred feet deep.”
“There are more,” Harper said.
“That’s impossible. This catacomb is one of our most studied sites. Dozens of archaeologists have been through it.”
“They should keep digging.”
And Hauck, much to his surprise, found himself agreeing.
HARPER SEEMED TO HAVE FULLY recovered by the time they reached Stephanie’s apartment. She’d lived in a Western-style building, seven stories high, that stood in contrast to the other structures on the street because it was so new. The honey-colored stone was clean, and there was even a lobby attendant in the modern entrance area. Hauck noticed that the people walking through were all European. This was expat lodging.
And maybe government as well.
“I assume this is pretty expensive housing,” he said to Nabila.
She nodded. “There is parking behind and underneath the building with an armed guard at all times. We do our best to make foreigners feel safe here, whether native Egyptians or whomever.” She was quite expressionless as she said this, and Hauck could only guess at her feelings. But he found himself thinking that, considering the income disparity between the average Egyptian and the students who could afford to study abroad, having an armed guard watch over the vehicles was simply a wise precaution.
Nabila talked to the doorman in rapid Egyptian. The man then made a phone call and nodded.
“The roommates are home and say we can come up,” Nabila said.
“I’m not sure what good my going up there will do.” Harper huddled, thin and tense, against her brother. “They’re all alive.”
Hauck stifled a laugh. “Maybe you should come up because you’re Stephanie’s age. You might be more tuned into her roommates than I’ll be.”
Harper’s eyes narrowed. She seemed to suspect she was being cozened into the expedition.
“All right,” she said grudgingly, and they entered an elevator.
At the third floor they exited into a hall that was clean and wide, but not elaborately decorated. Stephanie’s door was to the right at the end of the corridor. In answer to Nabila’s knock a short girl with permed red hair swung open the door and stepped back to admit them. Hauck figured she was in her upper twenties, and she was wearing clothes that looked expensive. Could be knockoffs, though, like Nabila’s sunglasses. Hauck was no style expert.
“This is Jerri Sanderson,” Nabila said, then she pointed to each of her companions and introduced them.
“Come sit down,” Jerri said. “Can I get you something to drink?”
They all declined, then took seats in the small common living area.
“Have you found out anything new?” Jerri asked.
“Nothing,” Nabila said. “Where is your other roommate?”
“Tina’s on her way. She got held up at the university.”
“Do you attend there as well?” Hauck asked.
Based on nothing all that tangible, he was not an immediate fan of Jerri Sanderson.
“No. I’m a working girl,” Jerri said. An edge of anger had entered her voice. “I’m here as a gofer for an interior designer. He does places for Westerners. So they’ll feel . . . comfortable.”
The door opened and a tall girl, no more than twenty, hurried inside, dropping a load of books on the dining table.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “I’m Tina Peek.”
She threw herself in a basket chair and looked at them expectantly. After introductions were done—again—Tina said, “I’m sure Stephanie is on a yacht somewhere with one of the millionaires.”
Hauck was taken aback. “One of the millionaires?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Harper sit straight.
Then she rose from her chair and began wandering around the room.
“You know all kinds of rich Egyptians come here to go to the beach,” Tina said. “Are you at the Four Seasons? That’s prime stomping grounds. But Stephanie was a magnet for that kind of guy.” She spread her hands, as if to say, Go figure.
Jerri looked away scowling.
“Can you give us a name?” Nabila asked. “And why do you think Stephanie in particular was a magnet? You didn’t mention that theory when we were here last time.”
“I can’t give you a specific name. But there are sheiks and princes and whatnot vacationing here all the time. Stephanie was blond and cute. Just their type.”
Hauck noted that Tina was neither of those things.
“She had guys after her all the time. But who did she actually take up with? That loser at the bar.”
“Ivo? He says he only hooked up with Stephanie one night,” Hauck said.
Tina gave a snort of laughter. “Really?”
Jerri tossed Tina a surprised look. “It may be true. I don’t know that Stephanie was meeting up with Ivo every night she went out. I think she was doing something else.”
“Why do you think that?” he asked.
In the kitchen area, Harper bent over and picked something up from a tiny space between the stove and the counter.
Jerri and Tina had their backs to her.
“She didn’t dress up,” Jerri said.
Harper wandered back into the conversation. “What did she wear? If she wasn’t dressing up for a date?”
“Washed-out jeans and T-shirts that had gotten stained from the cleaning solvents at the museum,” Jerri said.
Tina laughed again. “You’re imagining that, Jerri,” she said. “Just because she didn’t wear a lot of perfume and a skimpy skirt.”
This was clearly a dart that hit its target.
Jerri flushed and pressed her lips together.
“Can we look at her room?” Harper said.
“You can, but it’s empty. Her family cleared out most of her stuff. Her rental car is still in the parking garage, but they looked through that too. We’ll be glad when we can get a new roommate, but no one is exactly panting to live here now,” Jerri said.
They took a look anyway.
Blank walls and empty shelves. A few cheap art prints and a tchotchke or two that didn’t seem worth carting home.
Harper pointed to an odd Egyptian statuette on the dresser. It had the body of a man, but the head of a bird with a pointy, curved beak.
“That’s Anti,” Jerri said. “The Falcon God. I guess he ferried the pharaohs to the afterlife or something. They left it though. Steph was obsessed with it. Anti, Ivo, Razi. She was obsessed with a lot of things.”
Hauck looked at Harper, who shook her head in futility. But she looked as though there was something else on her mind. She seemed to be holding something she had found, and he noticed her slip it into her pocket.
When they were back in the car and on their way to their next destination, the museum, he asked, “What did you think of the two
MatchUp by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes