The Hunt for the Golden Priest

Tied up. Beaten. Tortured. Boothe had suffered through it all, but it still rankled him when he was caught off-guard. Currently, he was lying against a dark, cold wall, with his hands bound behind his back. A prisoner once more.

Boothe would have groaned, but there was a gag stuffed in his mouth that stifled any sound.

Footsteps approached. He saw the pale yellow glow of a flashlight appear from around the corner and then Charlie Powers was in front of him.

Powers: a strong, capable man with an evil glint in his eye and a reputation for being ruthless. Boothe had enough bruises over his body to attest to the truth of that—his body ached all over from where Powers had hit him.

“You’re awake,” Powers said. “I thought you wouldn’t come to for another couple of hours yet. Water?”

Boothe tried to speak, but the gag prevented him. He stared at Powers with dark eyes. Powers shrugged, took a drink from his canteen.

“Speak up if you want anything,” he said, then laughed harshly. The man headed back the way he had come from. Darkness closed in around Boothe. Boothe grunted through the gag; Powers turned.

“You have something to say?” The man asked, genuinely curious. Powers stared at Boothe, as though he suspected a trick. Curiosity got the better of him, and he walked back to Boothe and released the gag.

“You’re making a big mistake,” Boothe said, his voice raspy. “I have friends. They’ll find you.”

“And then what?” Powers demanded. “They’ll make me pay? Please, John. Is that all you have to offer? Empty threats? I expected more from you.” Powers grabbed the gag and wrapped it around the back of Boothe’s neck, then shoved it into his mouth. He smiled dangerously, then walked away without another word.

Boothe watched him go until the light disappeared and he was once more plunged into darkness.

Cairo: hot and dusty, with a sun that was hovering around the horizon as though it just couldn’t make the effort of rising. Lance Hancock stormed out of the airport, grabbed the nearest cab. He had an address scrawled on a scrap of paper. It meant nothing to him: he handed it to the driver, who nodded and drove off. Five minutes later, he was there.

There was a small, nondescript shop near one of the bustling markets. Hancock hovered by the entrance, uncertain, before he knocked sharply on the door.

It’s open!” A gruff voice called from within. Hancock pushed on the door and stepped inside. A dusty gloom swept over him. Soft light filtered in through the high windows, but did little to illuminate the objects inside. Hancock could make out vases and staffs and rugs piled in a corner, but the details eluded his aging eyes.

There was a man sitting behind a desk, writing furiously under the light from a lawyer’s lamp. The man did not look up when he spoke.

“If you are after something from the Ming Dynasty, we are getting a shipment after mid-May. For now, we have only local antiquities. I have some interesting items from a dig from last month. Very exciting hieroglyphics. A most curious design.”

“I’m after Boothe,” Hancock said. At the mention of Boothe’s name, the little bald man dropped his pen and looked up. When he saw Hancock, he smiled warmly at his old friend and came around the desk and embraced him.

“Lance, my old friend—so good to see you! I did not know you were coming.”

“Neither did I, Hazem, until last night,” Hancock said. “I got Selena’s message and grabbed the next flight. Has he shown up yet? She said he was missing.”

“Yes,” Hazem said sadly. “We have not seen him. What is more, Selena has disappeared, too.”

“What? No!” Hancock growled. “How?”

“I do not know. I believe she was chasing after John. She might come back still, but I fear for her… such a head-strong young girl. I keep telling her: take things slow. There is no need to rush, and yet she jumps at excitement every chance she gets. Boothe is going to get her in trouble one of these days. Or worse.”

“Yes,” Hancock agreed. “If your daughter is missing, then John can wait. We must found her, Hazem. Let me help you. What do you know?”

“Not much, I’m afraid,” Hazem said. “He left in a hurry. I suspect she had found out something about John. Why she didn’t tell me… well, that’s children for you! Of course, she hasn’t returned and nobody I talk to has seen her. I asked around all the digs, of course. They all know Selena; they would tell me if they had seen her.”

“Then we are back where we started. Tell me about John: what was Boothe working on?”

“Imhotep,” Hazem grunted. “There are rumours that the location of the priest’s tomb has been found.”

“I wasn’t aware he had a tomb,” Hancock said. “He was executed, wasn’t he?”

“Yes. But his body was preserved, to be buried with his King as a servant in the afterlife.”

“King Ramses the Fourth,” Hancock said. “But they have found his tomb. There was no priests there.”

“No, which is why this rumour was so intriguing. John ran after it, as he does. Now he’s missing. Selena ran after John, as she does—and now she’s missing, too, and all I can do is sit here and count stock and hope she walks through that door.”

“Don’t worry Hazem,” Hancock said. “We will find her.”

Selena Massala was as intelligent as she was beautiful. She had emerald green eyes and dark hair and skin that was smooth and flawless and almost as black as midnight. That was her beauty.

She had graduated at the top of her class, and been invited to attend prestigious universities in London, and in the US. She had ignored them all and stayed in Egypt, where she had studied archaeology and engineering, whilst dabbling in medicine on the weekends. She had become one of the youngest ever to lead a dig in the Valley of the Queens, where she had found Queen Atuffuh—the fabled mother Goddess of Cleopatra—and secured funding from donors world-wide to conduct a second dig and continue her work. That was only the start of her intelligence, and it was her mind that had drawn John Boothe to her. Selena wondered if the man had ever even noticed her smouldering eyes, of if he had just been intrigued by her brain, and that was why she was searching for him now. It was refreshing to find a man that did not see her figure, but listened to her ideas, instead.

Of course, Boothe never listened to her when she warned him to be careful. He had ploughed on, as he always did, and now he was missing. He hadn’t told her where he was going, but she knew it had something to do with Imhotep—the fabled priest that had been so divisive in Ancient Egypt’s history.

What was strange was that he had mentioned the Valley of the Kings, and Imhotep was no king—he had been a priest, and should have been buried beneath the City of the Dead, instead. It was a completely different valley.

Selena walked down the well-warn path, past old digs that were long abandoned. There were still digs all around, of course. Scholars were finding new tombs all the time. Most had been looted long before—sometimes a thousand years before—but there was more to history than gold and mummies. There was so much to learn from these tombs; Selena did not believe they would ever stop learning from the dead.

Boothe had said something about a dig right on the edge of the Valley. Selena hadn’t heard anything about it, and that was odd—Selena knew about most of the work in and around the Valley of the Kings, even though the archaeologists in this part of the world were notoriously secretive. But even secretive people talked to her—sometimes, it paid to be pretty.

Sure enough, Selena heard the sound of voices and machinery as she approached the tomb of Ramses IV. This was near a dead-end—there wasn’t much beyond here except rock and desert.

Selena slowed and crept against the walls of the valley. A sense of unease washed over her. There was danger here.

She saw men standing outside a long-looted tomb. A generator was chugging away, and there was a flat-bed truck parked by the entrance. Selena counted five men coming and going. They weren’t talking, and they were moving rapidly—too rapidly to be archaeologists… Which meant they were thieves.

Selena turned to head back; looters could be dangerous at the best of times, and she was alone and unarmed. A shadow fell over her, and then she saw a darkened face and a smile full of yellow teeth. Sweat and stubble overwhelmed her.

“What do we have here?” a gruff voice demanded in that particular way that promised cruelty.

“I’m sorry. I was lost. I didn’t see anything,” Selena said, and tried to walk by. The man grabbed her by the wrists and held her fast. Selena cried out, but there was nobody around to hear her.

“Maybe… Maybe not,” the man said. His smile widened. “But I can’t let you leave, little girl. Not until we’re certain.”

Selena screamed. Her echo screamed right back at her.

Ahmed was ten, and wanted to be an archaeologist when he grew up. He spent as much time as possible following the digs and even managed to help a few professors now and then—when they were in a charitable mood. Everybody knew Ahmed, although nobody knew where he came from, who his parents were, or where he lived. He was just a boy. Some of the regular labourers called him a stray dog, but they meant the term as one of affection, and they always made sure the boy got a decent lunch if he was found near one of the dig sites.

He was wandering aimlessly around the Valley of the Kings when he heard a scream. Ahmed looked towards the noise; it was coming from the next valley. Ahmed scrambled up the sides of the cliff. He moved quicker than a monkey and was soon standing on top of the valley. He was breathing hard and sweating, but Ahmed kept running until he reached the next valley. He looked down from the top and saw three men man-handle a woman into one of the tombs. The woman screamed again, and Ahmed saw her face.

Selena Massala.

Ahmed gasped in shock. Selena was being kidnapped, and he was the only one that could help. Ahmed was young, but he wasn’t foolish—he knew he couldn’t stop the kidnappers on his own, but he could get help.

Ahmed ran as fast as he could, back towards Cairo. He ignored the roasting sun and the burning sand and the air that was so dry it turned his throat to sandpaper. He just ran.

And he hoped he wasn’t too late.

Hazem Massala looked up as his shop’s bell rang. He was with Hancock in his back room, looking over his notes.

“Somebody’s here,” he frowned. Then they heard a young voice crying out: “Mister Massala! Mister Massala!

“Ahmed?” Hazem frowned, then headed out to the front of his shop. Hancock followed, and saw a young boy standing breathless amongst Hazem’s wares. What followed was a torrent of words that all rolled together as Ahmed hurried to get everything out.

“Mister Massala! I saw Selena kidnapped by some men in the Valley of the Kings. She was screaming, mister Massala! I ran right here to get you. I didn’t know what to do—she was screaming! Screaming!”

“Selena? Selena!” Hazem shouted, as though his daughter could hear him. Hancock placed a warm hand on his friend’s shoulder, then looked to the boy.

“Can you take us there?” He asked. Ahmed nodded. Hancock looked to Hazem and managed a smile. “Let’s get your daughter back,” he said.

Boothe lay in the darkness. Time slowed to a crawl, or perhaps even stopped completely. The only sound around him was from his breath.

Light—in the distance. Shadows danced against the walls, then footsteps and grunting and a woman’s cry. Boothe blinked the dryness from his eyes, and the world floated back into focus.

He made out the silhouette of Powers, and there was somebody else. A woman.

“I found you a friend,” Powers growled, and the woman was thrown forward, into Boothe. She cried out and rolled off him. Boothe recognised her instantly. He managed to cough out the gag around his mouth.

“Selena.”

John?

“You two know each other, huh? I thought as much. Well… I’m sure you have much to discuss. I’ll leave you two love-birds in peace.” Powers walked away. He called out behind him: “Let me know if you need anything,” he said, then he laughed heartily and walked away.

Boothe stared at the retreating light. It slowly died, and he was plunged into darkness once more. Selena snuggled in next to him; her warmth was electric.

“Selena… Why did you get yourself mixed into this?” Boothe asked quietly.

“Why did you run off without telling anybody?” she shot back. “I was worried sick! I thought you were dead! Obviously, my fears were justified. I see you’ve gotten yourself into another rescue situation. Honestly, sometimes I don’t know how you manage to leave your bedroom without being kidnapped.”

“They took me by surprise!” Boothe protested. “They got you, too, so you’re not that clever.”

“Yes, but I’m not the hero,” Selena said, and Boothe knew she was smiling. “I’m the damsel, remember? You’re supposed to rescue me.”

“Yes, well… If I could, I would,” Boothe said. “I’m afraid we’re stuck here. Maybe Lance will find us.”

Selena sighed theatrically.

“What?” Boothe demanded. “Hancock’s capable!”

“I never said he wasn’t,” Selena said. “I was just reminding myself that you can never trust a man. Roll over; press your hands against mine.”

“Why?”

“Just do it!” Selena snapped. Boothe grumbled but complied; he rolled over, felt Selena’s soft fingers brushed against his own. There was something else there, too—something cool, metallic and sharp.

A knife.

Boothe grunted in surprise, and then he was free. Selena was free a second later.

“Those goons didn’t even pretend to be gentlemen,” she explained. “They only searched the soft bits.”

“Well, we can complain about sexism in kidnappers later,” Boothe said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“How are we going to find the exit in the dark?” Selena asked. Boothe smiled so bright she could see it in the gloom.

“We’re not after the exit,” he said.

Ahmed led Hancock and Massala through the heat of the desert, to where he had seen Selena kidnapped. Both men were armed with hunting rifles—relics Massala had from the war, stored at the back of his shop.

“It is over here,” Ahmed said, then pointed at an open tomb that was littered with rubbish. There was nobody about, but a generator was chugging away, and there were work lights visible inside the tunnel.

Massala turned to the boy: “Run along, Ahmed.”

“Do you want me to get the police?” The boy asked.

“No,” Hancock shook his head and smiled. “We’ll deal with this, right Massala?” Massala looked down at his rifle and worked the bolt action.

“Right,” the old man said, and entered the tunnel. Hancock followed.

Ahmed watched on, then he hurriedly ran back home.

Boothe and Selena followed the light. Soon, there were voices. Boothe stopped, held up a hand for quiet.

“We’re close,” he said.

“Close to what?” Selena demanded. “What is this all about, anyway?”

“The mummy Imhotep,” Boothe said. “This is his tomb. They are raiding it.”

“But this is Ramses tomb. It was excavated years ago.”

“Yes, but there was a rumour that the priest was buried with his King, to serve in the afterlife.”

“But Ramses hated Imhotep. Why would he want to spend eternity with a priest that threatened his rule?”

“I don’t know,” Boothe admitted. He gestured with his head towards the light. “It sounds like they’ve found something. Let’s go take a look.”

“John, we should get out of here. These men are violent.”

“Which is why I want to stay,” Boothe said. “These artefacts belong to all mankind. They are not just for the elite. Don’t worry: I’ll keep you safe.” Selena grumbled, but followed Boothe as he advanced down the dark corridor. The voices grew louder.

Boothe slowed; caution was needed. He could see an opening in front of him. Shadows danced among the flickering torch light. He turned to Selena, saw frightened eyes stare back at him. He smiled weakly—he had been confident before, but Selena was right. These people were violent, dangerous criminals. They would kill them both, given the chance.

But Boothe was a man of action. He advanced to the opening and saw that they had reached the main tomb of the Pharaoh Ramses IV. Hieroglyphics covered every wall, and a stone slab sat in the centre—the resting place of Ramses for thousands of years, before he had been moved to a museum.

There were five men in the room. They had sledge hammers and were smashing the far wall into chunks. There were black shadows beyond—a hidden room lay beyond the wall. Boothe wondered if Imhotep really did rest beyond that wall. Boothe frowned: Charlie Powers was nowhere to be seen. He was letting his goons do all the dirty work.

A rifle lay by the empty stone slab. Boothe licked his lips, gestured to Selena that he was going to grab it. The men with the sledge hammers would never hear him.

Boothe advanced. He was half-way to the rifle when a voice behind him called out: “Move and you’re dead.

Charlie Powers.

Boothe turned around, saw Powers resting nonchalantly against the back wall, hidden by shadow. A revolver was pointed at Boothe.

“You won’t get away with this,” Boothe said—which sounded pathetic, even to him. Powers laughed.

“I already have,” Powers said, and pointed to his workers. Boothe turned, saw that they had demolished the wall and had entered the second room. He saw something golden shine from within.

Imhotep…” he breathed. It was a magical sight. Behind him, Selena gasped as Powers grabbed her and threw her towards Boothe. Boothe held her close.

“Just look at it,” Powers said as his men brought the mummy from his tomb. Boothe stared, slack-mouthed and in awe.

The five smugglers carried out Imhotep. Unlike Ramses and his fellow mummies, the priest had been interred in a kneeling position. His hands were clasped in front of his chest, as if in prayer. The mummy shone golden—his wraps were coated in gold, and in the flickering torchlight the figure looked like a floating god.

“Behold: Imhotep. He was interred to serve his King, but his disciples had other ideas—to them, he was their King and in the after-life, Ramses will serve him,” Powers said. “And now he will make me rich.”

“And what about us?” Boothe demanded. “What are you going to do with us? At least let the girl go.”

“Not likely,” Powers said. He pointed to the second tomb. “We will have to seal the wall again, so nobody else finds it. I hope you like the dark, Boothe—you’ll be spending a lot of time there.”

I think not!” another voice boomed into the room. Boothe smiled: Hancock, armed and ready. He had his rifle aimed at Powers’ chest. “Drop the gun, Powers.”

Powers looked as though he was going to challenge, but than Hazem Massala appeared behind Hancock with a gun of his own.

“Father!” Selena gasped. Hazem didn’t smile, and Boothe thought he was going to shoot. Powers thought so, too; he lowered his revolver and then raised his hands. Hancock smiled.

“A wise choice,” he said. He jerked his head towards the five men holding Imhotep. “Might as well march the old fellow right to the museum boys,” the older man laughed.

Charlie Powers did not join in the mirth.

“My doctor says I shouldn’t drink,” Massala said, “but it has been a hell of a day. Wine, Lance?”

“Always,” Hancock said. He had two glasses ready, and it wasn’t long before they were both filled with wine. “I trust the museum was pleased with its latest addition?”

“The find of the century,” Massala said. “Powers will go down in the history books… Which should make his prison cell feel a little warmer. Kidnapping and smuggling—why do men always have to get so greedy?”

“If I could answer that, I could retire,” Hancock said. “Have you seen John? He’s never been one to knock back a drink.”

“No, and I haven’t seen Selena, either,” Massala said. There was a twinkle in his eye. Hancock smiled back.

“Strange. You would think they’d have spent enough time together,” Hancock said.

Then he poured another glass of wine for himself. He had earned it.

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