MatchUp, p.35Lee Child
mind. It was something much bigger.”
He was an old hand at keeping his reactions private. “Bigger, like artifact smuggling? Or faking antiquities?”
“Bigger, still. She found something.”
“You know her area of expertise,” Jerri said. “What do you think?”
And as quickly as she had started the conversation, Jerri ended it by walking out.
He ordered a bourbon and settled back in his chair to think over what she meant.
His cell phone rang.
“Can you come up to our room, Mr. Hauck?”
Harper sounded upset.
“Tolliver’s too sick for me to leave him, and I have to tell you something. It’s 709.”
“Sure, why not?”
ON HIS WAY UP IN the elevator, he noted that this seemed his evening to receive information from young women.
He knocked at Harper’s door, and she answered it quickly, waving him in.
“How’s your brother?” he asked.
“Not good. He only thought he had a cast-iron stomach. I can’t really do much until the worst of it is over, which I hope will be soon.” She looked both worried and exasperated and didn’t invite him to sit. “Look, I found something at the apartment. I wanted to show you privately.” She dug in her jeans pocket and extracted a Kleenex, unfolded it, and handed Hauck a tiny fragment.
“It looks like part of a tooth.”
“It’s Stephanie’s. She’s dead,” she said in as matter-of-fact a tone as if she was making a bank deposit. “I felt a tiny buzz from it in the apartment. It was between the stove and the refrigerator, not even visible until I leaned down and looked. I don’t think she was murdered there. It came to the apartment some other way. Maybe on someone’s shoe.”
“Surely the Egyptian police searched the place and tested for blood?” He was thinking out loud, and he wasn’t too surprised when Harper didn’t offer an opinion or comment. “We need to find the rest of the bones. Can you track them with the piece of tooth?”
“You suddenly seem to have a lot more belief in what I do than you did before.”
“You’ve earned it,” he said.
“Tooth is not bone, but it turns out it’s close enough,” she said. “I’ve never tracked a body that way. But I could try.”
He shook his head, placing the wrapped-up tooth fragment in his shirt pocket. “You’re quite the surprising gal.”
“I am what I am.” She shrugged. “But thanks. Now let me get back to Mt. Vesuvius in the bathroom.”
“Be my guest.”
Back in his room, Hauck spent the rest of the evening studying Nabila’s file. Something didn’t sit right. Poor Stephanie. He looked over her photo again.
Was she dead?
Jerri said she had found something.
You know her area of expertise.
Electromagnetic cartography, he read from the file.
She could find what was under the ground.
Unable to rest, he threw on a jacket and took a taxi back to Stephanie’s apartment building.
“You remember me, I represent the family,” he said to the man in the lobby. He showed him Nabila’s card with a two-hundred-Egyptian-pound note wrapped around it. “I want to check out her car.”
“I go on break.” The guard looked through a cabinet, taking the card and cash.
He handed Hauck a set of car keys.
“In twenty minutes.”
HAUCK WOVE THROUGH THE ROWS of cars to the blue fiat Stephanie had leased when she’d arrived in Alexandria. The police had gone over it, Nabila had assured him, but found nothing suspicious. The contents of the car had not been significant, so they’d left them in a shoe box on the front passenger’s seat. He took out his cell phone and switched on the flashlight app.
He looked through what was in there.
A grocery list, some notes on a museum exhibit in town, a city map, tourist brochures, and a small date book filled with appointments, sketches, some restaurant comments, and travel notes she had made on side trips to Cairo, Italy, and Croatia.
Nothing entered on the day she disappeared.
He turned on the car and checked the GPS memory for recent destinations.
It had been wiped clean.
Cradling his cell-phone light in his lap, he paged through the date book one more time. There were numbers scattered throughout. Prices, dates, addresses, shopping notes. Things so trivial she likely wouldn’t have even bothered to enter them on her phone.
Two of the numbers stood out.
They weren’t on the same page. Instead, they were some ten pages apart. One, on March 8, the other back in August. Both written in blue ink, instead of the more prevalent black. The first was an eight-digit number with two letters in front of it.
The second similar.
He turned the page, pretty sure he knew exactly what these numbers represented, and his heart stopped in his chest. There was a sketch of what looked like two statues, side by side. Each had the body of a man. A measurement to the side read 50´.
Fifty feet tall?
But that wasn’t what stopped him.
It was the face.
The two of them side by side.
Each had the body of a man and the face of a falcon.
It was a long walk back to his hotel.
A lot of the city was quiet, a few cafés were still open, people playing games or watching soccer on TV.
A few cabs rushed by.
In his room once more, Hauck booted up his laptop and entered the numbers as GPS coordinates, with a period after the first two in each sequence.
And struck gold.
THE NEXT MORNING, AROUND 9, NABILA arrived at the hotel in her car. Hauck and Harper climbed in. Tolliver was still sleeping, though Harper said he was feeling much better.
The inspector turned to Hauck. “You texted me that you had a new itinerary today?”
He took out his iPhone, which was set to Google Maps. He’d entered the location of the numbers, which he now knew were GPS coordinates.
“It’s in Abu Qir.”
“Abur Qir? That’s west. Maybe forty minutes, depending on traffic. Why do we need to go there?”
“I don’t have the time, Mr. Hauck, to be chasing shadows.”
“Just this once?”
She complied, though she was clearly not happy that he chose not to explain. Harper sat in the backseat with the piece of Stephanie’s tooth, which he’d returned to her earlier.
Her eyes were closed. She seemed to be taking a nap.
It took nearly twenty minutes to flee the city center. He was tense, and the closer the car drove to the designated site, the more anxious he grew. The landscape was now desertlike and far less populated, though there were settlements from time to time marked in Arabic and English on green road signs. He was all too aware that he was basing this bet simply on some numbers he’d happened on and a hunch. That, and the dubious talent of a woman who’d been struck by lightning.
They turned north a mile or so after they left the city, heading toward the Mediterranean. The landscape became arid and barren, the Sahara creeping right to the sea. Palm trees dotted the road like sentinels. The towns were smaller and poorer, the signage all in Arabic. When they were within half a mile of their destination, Harper took out Stephanie’s tooth fragment and held it between her forefinger and thumb.
“What’s going on?” Nabila asked.
“Jerri came to meet me when we got back to the hotel yesterday afternoon,” he said. “She told me that Stephanie was on the trail of something really big. Razi never mentioned that, did he?”
Nabila turned while driving on the dusty, narrow road. “Not a word.”
“She said Stephanie was obsessed with that statue we saw in her room. Anti. Th
He prayed this wasn’t a wild-goose chase. If so, he’d probably have two Egyptian cops escorting him onto the first plane out of here.
Nabila said, “Feel what?”
“Last night I went back to the apartment and looked through Stephanie’s car.”
“How did you possibly get in?”
The inspector seemed annoyed.
“I gave them your card.”
Nabila’s dark eyes flared in anger.
“Plus a two-hundred-Egyptian-pound bill. Anyway, I found this notebook, among her things.” He showed her. “No worries. No reason anyone would have thought it suspicious. But it had this sketch of Anti in it, you remember, the man-falcon god. Two Antis, to be exact. They look like statues. And two, separated, not meant for anyone to see together.”
Nabila looked confused.
“And where do you think they lead?” the inspector asked, though as soon as the words were out of her mouth, her eyes widened with understanding of what Hauck meant.
Google Maps announced they had arrived.
“Here,” he said.
They were next to a large dirt field. Maybe a farm that had dried up. Few structures were around. A couple of run-down stucco homes, more like shanty houses, outfitted with satellite dishes. And a domed stone building that looked like some kind of local community center. Two men were sitting at a table outside it, reading newspapers.
Nabila stopped the car. “You’re saying these statues are somehow connected to these coordinates? Here?”
“Stephanie was an expert in electromagnetic cartography. She could see what was under the ground.”
The detective seemed to finally grasp what Hauck was implying. “You’re thinking Razi—”
“I don’t know what I’m thinking yet. We’re just—”
“What’s going on?” Nabila demanded. “What have you found?”
“Let’s get out,” he said.
The car’s rear door opened and Harper was out, on the move.
“Over here,” she called, leading them away from the coordinates.
Her eyes were squeezed shut in concentration. She held the tooth fragment to her forehead, as if to help her mind listen more closely. She continued to walk, almost blindly, leading them into a barren crop field with a large mound of rock on the other side.
“The site’s back there,” he said, catching up to her.
Harper kept walking, as if following an inner radar. “That may be, but she’s here.”
Nabila picked up her skirt and tried to keep up with them. “Tell me what’s going on?”
“Harper is earning her fee.”
It was even hotter here than on the coast, and the sunlight was blinding. There were rocks ahead, and if you looked closely, you might conclude that they were not rocks, but building stones.
Palm trees stood all around.
Harper held out one hand, and Hauck understood he was supposed to take it. She pointed where she wanted to go, eyes still closed, and he led her, not breaking the trance. He started to say something, but she put up her hand and shook her head. The hill of rocks ahead seemed the target. She rounded the mound and stopped.
“There she is.”
And he saw it.
The remains loosely covered by dirt and scattered rocks.
Whoever dumped Stephanie there had surely hoped some animal would make a meal. She’d been stuffed into a naturally formed cavity within the stones, which had then been sealed with smaller rocks. Unless you came around here, to the far side, looking for something, you would never notice.
Nabila stared, stunned.
Then she looked at Hauck. “You’re saying Razi killed her?”
“I think Stephanie told him she’d found a promising new site. You heard what he said. She was impulsive, impatient. She always wanted to rush out to anything she found. But not just a site. A major Egyptian tomb, guarded by giant statues, which is what those Anti figures represent. The ferryman to the afterworld. And Egyptian, not Greek. The tomb of someone important.”
Nabila nodded, seemingly stunned at the magnitude of Stephanie’s discovery. “That would be quite a find.”
“And here, near Alexandria. Not on the Nile. She’d discovered it, plotted the coordinates, mapped out what it was. Maybe it was her hope to bring it to the world’s attention. Who knows? Maybe Razi wanted the credit for himself as the vaunted director of the program. Maybe he told her not to be looking here and now he would be completely shown up. Maybe she brought him here to finally show it to him.”
“What about this tooth?” Harper asked.
“I think Tina told Razi that Stephanie was going to tell her family about what she’d found, and then the government. Razi would be the man who let a Western woman trump him. I’m sure he and Tina were an item. Maybe Tina put a drug in Stephanie’s drink, at the apartment after she left the bar, or there was a struggle and then Tina and Razi brought her out here and killed her.”
“How?” Nabila asked.
“Tire iron,” Harper said. “That’s what she’s telling me. That’s what killed her. It’s out here somewhere.”
She started walking away from Stephanie’s resting place.
Hauck just followed.
“She’s looking for the murder weapon?” Nabila said, disbelievingly. “Out here?”
“You’re the one who chided me yesterday for thinking so Western. You have to believe.”
Harper kept kicking up dust and dirt as if on the scent of something. Fifty yards away, as if she had a divining rod in her head, she stopped at a small clump of dirt in the arid earth. Hauck bent down and swept away loose dirt with his hands.
“There are fragments of her skull on it,” Harper said, opening her eyes as if her work was done.
Hauck kept digging.
He removed a rock from the ground and pawed at the earth. Finally he came upon the edge of something promising.
MatchUp by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes