MatchUp, p.34Lee Child
He expected to hear Nabila’s opinion, and she’d opened her mouth to respond, when Harper cut her off.
“One of them was lying.”
“How do you figure?” He was curious about her reasoning.
“Either Jerri was telling the truth and Stephanie was dressed for work, hard work. Or Tina was telling the truth and Stephanie was dressed for a date.”
“It has to be an either/or?” he said.
“Both things can’t be true. Especially since they don’t like each other.” Harper was observant, he’d give her that. Of course, if she was a con woman that would be part of the tricks of her trade. “Where were they the night she went missing?”
Nabila said, “Jerri Sanderson said she was out of town until late the next day, and we partially confirmed that with her employer. She was with him until eight at night, and she was there at nine the next morning. In between, who knows? Tina Peek said she was partying until two in the morning, and Stephanie was not in the apartment when she came home.”
“They don’t like each other, it’s true,” Nabila went on.
And Hauck noticed that something about the interview, or about the two women, had made Nabila thoughtful, as well.
“By the way, Nabila,” he said. “Are either of the girls Jewish? Did they mention connections of Stephanie’s through her synagogue?”
Nabila flushed. “The last synagogue in Alexandria is closed. There is nowhere she could have gone.”
So much for Alexandria’s record of tolerance, Hauck thought, taken aback by the way Nabila had misled him. Had it been simple loyalty to her city that had caused her to paint Alexandria in more flattering colors? Or did the police inspector know something about the case that she hadn’t divulged? For the first time, he looked at Nabila Honsi with a feeling of doubt.
The policewoman concentrated solely on her driving, the crowded streets noisy with cars and pedestrians of all sorts. They were close to the harbor again when Nabila pointed to a white stone building with a green lawn in front.
“That’s the museum,” she said. “I’m going to have to let you out and find a place to park. Obviously, that’s quite difficult here.”
She’d lost the pleasant tone that had made her sound so agreeable, and Hauck realized that quite possibly that had been a façade. This beautiful inspector had layers he hadn’t anticipated.
Like the city they were in.
As they scrambled out of the car and began to walk up the driveway, Hauck saw that Harper was watching after Nabila thoughtfully. Tolliver was looking pale and was sweating.
“What’s wrong?” Harper asked her brother, and Hauck saw she was alarmed, maybe more alarmed than the situation warranted.
“I don’t know if it’s jet lag or the salad I had,” Tolliver said. “I feel crappy.”
“Do you want to get a cab back to the hotel?” Harper said. “Get in bed?”
“I better do that, or I’m going to be embarrassing to have along,” Tolliver said, doing his best to sound jaunty.
Hauck undertook getting the cab, which was awkward since he didn’t speak much of the language. But the driver understood “Four Seasons,” and Hauck helped Tolliver into the backseat, at the last moment realizing the man needed local currency. He stuffed some in his hand.
“Watch out for her,” Tolliver muttered. Then he reached into his pocket and handed Hauck a handful of Werther’s Caramels and peppermints. “If she has a spell, give her one of these right away.”
Hauck pocketed the candy and rejoined Harper, who was looking distraught.
“He doesn’t have any money, he can’t pay,” she said anxiously.
“I took care of that. And I have candy in case you need it?”
She looked relieved. “He always watches out for me. I have something to give you.”
But just then Nabila joined them and he noticed the subject was dropped. They all headed to the office of Dr. Omar Razi.
“I thought it would be bigger,” Harper whispered to Hauck, as they crowded into Dr. Razi’s office.
It wasn’t a large space, but every inch of it was crammed with machinery, and papers and drawings. The walls were lined with open glass shelves crowded with interesting objects. Pots, spearheads, even pieces of bone. He wondered if Harper was vibrating like a tuning fork.
“This is not a huge museum, like your Smithsonian,” Dr. Razi said, in crisp English.
Perhaps in his early or midthirties, the man seemed young for his position. He had a thick head of hair and a trimmed mustache and was dressed in a white linen shirt and khaki slacks. Handsome man, by most standards. And to overhear Harper’s remark, the guy must be sharp-eared.
“But we are serious about discovering and excavating sites from the past that have remained undiscovered,” Dr. Razi added, as he seated himself behind his cluttered desk. The rest of them chose straight-backed chairs that were none too clean.
“And that’s what Ms. Winters was working on?” Hauck asked.
“More or less. She was learning the mechanics and analysis of satellite cartography under my tutelage.”
“I understand that it can reveal buried sites that aren’t apparent to the naked eye,” Hauck said.
And Dr. Razi was off and running. Hauck didn’t completely comprehend what the doctor was telling him, but he understood that satellite imaging had enabled archaeologists to see features of the landscape from above, features that had been buried hundreds or thousands of years not visible from the ground. There were specific programs to aid archaeologists in mapping these ancient sites and locating buried cities no one had suspected were there.
“I understand there’s another circle close to Stonehenge that is much larger,” Harper said, completely out of the blue.
“That’s right,” Dr. Razi said, his face lighting up at having discovered a kindred soul.
He showed every sign of launching into another monologue, but Hauck stopped him before he could hit his stride. “Please tell us about Stephanie.”
Razi’s face grew somber. “Of course. That’s why you are here, and I want to help in any way I can. She was an intelligent young woman, and her death is a great loss. To the program. To us all.”
“You’re sure she’s dead?” Harper said.
They all stared at her, but she showed no signs of being self-conscious.
“Sadly, what other conclusion is there?” Razi said. “Stephanie has been gone so long and has had no contact with her family. She was always on the cell phone to them. I had to speak to her about it more than once. Work hours, you know. I can’t waste the museum’s money. History must go on.”
“So she was slacking off?” Hauck said.
“I wouldn’t say that.” Razi seemed uncomfortable. “I don’t want to speak ill of her, you understand. She worked hard. But she’d also come to Egypt to sample its life, its sights and sounds, and I suppose that sometimes her job could be boring in comparison with that.”
“She was your intern,” Harper said quietly.
“So you spent a lot of time with Ms. Winters?”
“I suppose I did. She worked in my department.”
“And you say she was hard to supervise?” Harper persisted.
Razi obviously didn’t like where she was leading. “No. Just a bit careless, perhaps.”
“And you made note of that? On her evaluations?” Harper pressed.
Hauck wondered where she was leading.
“No,” Razi said, backpedaling. “I didn’t want to hurt her career in any way.”
“So what did you think she was in Alexandria for? The nightlife, or the research?”
“Both. After all,” Razi said, regaining his composure, “Ms. Winters came from a wealthy Jewish family. She was not used to being told what to do.”
The fact that Razi had made a point of Stephanie’s faith was unsettling.
“That’s so strange,” Nabila said, joining in for the first time,
He shrugged. “She was good, but she was inclined to be too excitable. History requires patience. There are a lot of false leads. You can’t be rushing off to every site just because something is there. The funds are not there to support it.”
Hauck leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “So what is your theory, Dr. Razi? What do you believe happened to her?”
Razi hesitated. “I don’t know. But I have assumed that Stephanie had gone into some souk or bar or gotten in a car with someone who tried to force themselves on her. And that she fought back and was killed. Sadly, things happen here. Governments come and go, but there is still a lingering resentment against the West.”
“So she was a fighter?” Hauck asked. “In your opinion.”
The Egyptologist almost smiled. “Oh, yes. Stephanie was indeed a fighter for what she believed in. And, my word, that girl could argue the leg off a table.”
They rose to leave, but instead of stepping toward the door, Harper drifted to the glass shelves. Her thin white hand floated toward a partial skull. Before Dr. Razi could protest, one finger touched the rounded dome.
“That is a woman’s skull from Roman times,” Razi said. “I will have to ask you not to touch.”
“Do you want to know what killed her?” Harper asked.
Her voice was eerily matter-of-fact.
“What?” Razi seemed confused, and he wasn’t the only one. Nabila looked taken aback.
The hair was rising on Hauck’s neck.
“She got an infection during childbirth,” Harper said, her eyes still on the brown bit of skull. “She was twenty-one. The baby lived, at least for a while.”
“And now we have to go,” Hauck said briskly. “Harper’s brother is ill, and we have to go check on him.”
THEY WALKED BACK TO THE elevator, Dr. Razi behind them as if he were herding them out of the museum. The three kept silent until they were outside, amid the noise and bustle of Alexandria.
Nabila spoke first. “You frightened him.”
“He shouldn’t keep her head in his office,” Harper said, “if he didn’t want to know the truth behind it. And look.”
Dr. Razi was leaving the building too, in a hurry. He hustled over to a car parked near the entrance, a white VW Passant, flicked the automatic lock, and climbed in. Then he drove away from the museum grounds.
“Not sure how I feel about that guy,” Harper said.
Hauck nodded. “Amen.”
Nabila dropped them off at their hotel, explaining that she had to return to the police station to wrap up a few things before she could leave for the day. Hauck thanked her and told her he’d see her tomorrow. By the time he’d said good-bye, Harper had vanished. Checking on her brother, he assumed. But he was surprised when she stopped him in the lavish lobby, amid the shadow of a pillar.
“Mr. Hauck,” she said. “One of the roommates is waiting in the bar. I think she’s waiting for you. Listen, come talk to me later. I found something.”
And then she was gone.
Hauck moseyed over to the bar to see if it were true.
Tall Tina was trying to look at ease in the upscale lobby bar, but she was not succeeding. The room was designed to look like a posh living room, with plates displayed on shelves, a painting above the fireplace, velvet armchairs, dark wood tables, and the gleam of china and crystal. She looked young and awkward in that setting.
“I didn’t think you were ever going to get back,” she said as Hauck came to her table. “I’ve been here for an hour. Drinks here cost a fortune.”
“It’s a nice place to wait,” he said, not about to apologize for being late to an appointment he hadn’t made.
“Did you go to the museum?”
She pushed her brown hair behind her ears. She was wearing antique, Egyptian earrings, which seemed out of keeping with her outfit. She appeared edgy.
“I just came from there.”
“Talking to Omar?”
“Stephanie had a good job,” Tina said.
“You’re using the past tense. You’re the one who believed she’d gotten on a yacht with a rich guy?”
“Even if Steph came back today, she wouldn’t get that job back,” Tina said.
“Did you come here to talk to me?”
He was ready to cut to the chase. It had been a very long day, and he wanted to shower, eat, and go to bed.
And he still had to stop by Harper’s room.
“It’s nice to talk to an American man, for a change.”
“Tina, I’m close to thirty years older than you. What do you really want?”
She bit her lip. “You shouldn’t sell yourself short. You’re an attractive guy. But I do have a boyfriend. I came to talk to you about something else.”
“You know Stephanie was Jewish?”
“And you know Jews aren’t exactly popular here.”
She said it like some kind of inside scoop.
“That’s been the case, off and on, for thousands of years,” he noted. “This is the Middle East.”
“Here’s what I wondered. What if Stephanie went to the synagogue that’s supposed to be so beautiful, the one that’s closed? Elia something. What if she tried to get in? What if the guards caught her?”
“Tina, I don’t know what made you imagine that scenario. From what I’ve heard, Stephanie was hardly observant. Her family certainly isn’t. Eliyahu Hanavi would be the last thing on her list of sites to visit in Alexandria.”
From the corner of his eye, he noticed a quick movement. He glanced in that direction and caught a glimpse of Stephanie’s other roommate, Jerri. When she realized Hauck had seen her, Jerri moved more into his line of sight and drew her hand across her throat. He guessed she was telling him to get rid of Tina.
That was curious.
It didn’t take long to accomplish the task. Tina ran out of conversational gambits, then offered to take him to a nightclub.
Naomi Blum, who ran the Treasury’s antiterrorist desk in D.C., and with whom he was off and on with, would have a chuckle at the thought Tina could tempt him.
“I really want to get to my room,” he said.
“I’ll say good night, then. Give me a call if you have some free time.”
She handed him a card with her number written on it.
He watched her leave. A young woman with an agenda. He only wished he knew what it was. Then her roommate, another young woman with her own agenda, threw herself into the same red chair Tina had just vacated. Though Jerri had not been exactly friendly or forthcoming at the apartment, he realized she was smarter and tougher than Tina.
“So here’s what you need to know,” Jerri said, not wasting time. “The truth is, Stephanie was a good person. And she knew all about that mapping thing she was doing. She was all over it. She loved it. She loved her job. She was trying to think of a way to keep doing it after her internship was over. Jobs in the archaeological world are hard to come by, and she understood that Egyptians would rather hire Egyptians. Government policy and all. She got that.”
Jerri paused, and Hauck nodded, just to show he was paying attention. If Tina had been all over the place conversationally, Jerri seemed a laser beam.
“I can’t pretend that Steph and I were close friends,” she said. “But I do know that she was having some kind of crisis. She was really worried. And it wasn’t boyfriend crap that was on her
MatchUp by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes