The funeral pyre of the Hotel Suite’s furniture rose from the rear of the vast, well watered gardens as the sun set across the bustling city, the deep orange skies lighting the sand-stone buildings almost blood-red and throwing sharp shadows across the streets. The street traders, Dragomen and other hangers-on to the tourist trade were filtering away from the Hotel steps, another day done for them leading gullible westerners to markets and tombs, heading off to the coffee houses and brothels to spend the evening losing the money they had so patiently taken. Amongst them, Alphonse D’Huberres, dressed as a native beggar, slipped back to his safe house, nursing his anger.
“So, d’you think the bugger’s skipped out on us sir?” Taylor was desperate for a good pint, too hot, and all the women plying their trade here reminded him uncomfortably of the one that had given him a dose here those many years ago.
“No.” The sand was making Morris’ hoarse whisper worse – almost a poor imitation of itself. “I think he’s in trouble again.”
“Why? That woman?”
“Instinct. Even if Outhwaite was playing us for fools he’d have been back by now to keep us sweet. No. Something’s up.”
The pair where walking through the Cairene evening towards the hotel that Thatcher and his Ministry helpers had put them up in – the officials preferring a more comfortable lodging at the British Embassy. Probably with decent cups of tea, too, thought Taylor. Bastards.
“But the woman, you think she’s following us?”
“That, or we’re following her. Another wild card.”
“Aye sir, there’s a lot of them.” Taylor thought for a moment, trailing in Morris’ wake as the inspector moved through the early evening crowds. “But they probably say the same about us!”
Morris smiled thinly. “One must hope so, Taylor”
They had spent the day awaiting either Kenton or Outhwaite to come back to them in a small, tourist-ridden coffee shop near the Pyramids. Taylor had talked seemingly endlessly about the heat, the natives, the lack of tea or the poor quality of same, and generally blended in with the rest of the sun-soaked European tourist trade. Morris had sat quietly, contemplating the vast stone constructs rising above the small market in which the shop was located, and slowly becoming more agitated at the non-appearance of his contact. Finally he had given up, and with a curt command led the Sergeant back to their hotel.
They arrived to a scene of chaos. Egyptian staff and European guests alike were in a panic, running around with jugs of boiling water, newspapers, or simply running around, stamping on a swarm of insects that where on the verge of overwhelming the foyer. They looked like no insects Morris had ever seen, large and fat, more so than the foul cockroaches they had in these parts. The creatures seemed to running around aimlessly, and slowly succumbing to the mass of humanity waging war upon them.
The two London Policemen had seen enough strange happenings recently to be suspicious. Both set off for their rooms at a run.
As they feared, their rooms were a mess. Whilst only a few insects remained here, soon to fall victim to Taylor’s vengeful feet, chairs where overturned, the bed messed up, and hangings disturbed. Morris looked around in dismay.
“Hey Inspector, look at this.”
Taylor had temporarily ceased his one-man war on the room’s six-legged invaders and was pointing to the small roll-top desk beneath the room’s window. Halfway along the front half an insect was hanging out, wiggling slowly, with no visible hole to hang out of. Carefully Morris grabbed one of the cracked glasses the Hotel left for it’s patrons to drink it’s water from, and with a pencil slowly tapped the insect into the glass. It slid out of the woodwork leaving no mark, a whole insect wriggling slowly in the bottom of the glass.
Taylor whistled low. “How the hell did that do that?”
Morris made no answer. Then his face contorted with frustration and anger. His foot lashed out with a force that took Taylor aback. One of the front legs of the desk splintered, and detached, the desk falling forward as the inspector stood back. Reaching down he rolled up the desk-top and kicked hard at the panelling at the base. With a tearing of wood the old desk, already abused by years of service in the Egyptian climate, broke apart. A handful of insects fell from inside the wood, no tunnels, no signs of burying, just fell straight out as if they had been part of the desk structure itself.
Morris straightened up. His uncharacteristic act of violence had seemed to calm him back to his normal self.
“Right. Lets stop playing around.”
The wood smoke hung on the air, cloying and smelly, but the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk watched the furniture burn regardless. It had taken nearly the whole day, and considerable expense to convince the petty man in charge of the Hotel to allow her to do this. The owners had been contacted, telegrams had flown to London and Paris, and only at about noon, when hordes of the blasted insectoid things had started to pour from the walls and furniture across the hotel had the blasted man acceded to her wishes.
Henry stoked the fire carefully, occasionally thrusting with a fire-iron from their old rooms into the mass to ensure nothing fell out. A few insects had made a bid for freedom when the pyre had been lit, but many they had been mindlessly circling, many of them dying as he watched, and easily brushed back onto piles of timber and cloth. Beside him Katrina stood, gazing into the flames, lost in a reverie of her own.
If she was being honest with herself, and the Duchess prided herself on her analytical abilities, the furniture was the least of the causes of frustration. Since Henry’s capture of the strange insects nearly 24 hours previously, she felt that she had got nowhere except to a slightly less plush hotel. Katrina had not got the pendant, claiming that it would be better to let Kenton stew for a day with no food and little water, making him a softer target for her “questioning” later. The woman had been away all day soothing the Frenchman’s suspicions, only coming back this evening to check the progress of the Duchess’ move.
On top of that her contact in London had been hopeless over the description cabled to him, except to say that it wasn’t the first time he had heard about these previously unknown insects. The man however had been infuriatingly imprecise in his reply as to where these had been previously seen, and the vagueness was preying upon her. Add to that Katrina’s unlucky encounter with the London policemen, and the apparent involvement of the Cairo underworld and Russian Communists, the whole picture was becoming confused. She felt strangely exposed, something that made her deeply uncomfortable, but there was little that could be done till the morrow, so she stood, and stared deep into the flames.
D’Huberres arrived back at the safe house, satisfied and furious at the same time. The Bitch! She was betraying him! Again his suspicions had worked; again the sly, paranoid part of his brain that had kept him alive all these years had been correct. And people wondered why he was so distrustful!
Following her yesterday had been hard. For a conspicuous woman Katrina could blend into the crowds of Cairo surprisingly well. Twice he had lost her, twice found her again, in a change of clothes, a different walk, but the trail had led at length to the Al-Azhar University where she had slipped inside, back her old, arrogant, but so seductive walk. Not fool enough to follow, he had waited, climbing onto one of the surrounding roofs to get a better view of the university buildings.
And worthwhile it was, he thought. He had lurking in the shadows when James Bastard Kenton had walked past him, talking with some other European, well tanned and obviously well on the way to “going native”. Kenton looked jumpy, the other man more relaxed. They had gone up the front, not the side entrance like Katrina, but D’Huberres was no believer in fate or co-incidence, and continued his silent vigil.
He clocked the thugs, waiting by the window. Hired muscle, paid to be stupid and tough, to ask no questions, and to never even try to put two and two together. He flexed his shoulder, felt the pain of the still-healing muscles, and waited. A shot. A pause. A shot. No-one on the street seemed to notice, the late evening crowds soaking up the noise that no-one but someone with his experienced ear would have heard. The muscle looked up to an unseen window, and headed into one of buildings.
He clambered off the roof, wincing at the pain of movement. In the alley, knife out, a swift, brutal murder and one of Cairo’s many beggars became another unsolved crime for the local police to ignore. A better disguise in place, he slunk, hunched over and slow toward the side entrance, settling with a line of other beggars against a shop wall, keen eyes deep in the lice ridden hood watching the door.
The muscle returned, carrying two large carpets over the shoulder. D’Huberres chuckled to himself at the lack of imagination – obviously she wasn’t getting help from Apep, who was more than capable of discreet body removal. They had to be Kenton and his companion. But… but…it could not be – a diversion while the American escaped again…he was torn – his instinct told to wait, that Katrina his target, that she should be followed, but the possibility that Kenton lay dead in the blankets was too much. He had to know if he had cheated of his vengeance. He followed.
The muscle headed off towards the Nile. Ah, Crocodiles. Trash disposal for the criminal element. Confident in his superiority he followed discreetly, but they where taking no precautions. He expected that they had not long to live anyway; Katrina was not one for loose ends, especially such foolish ones as these. Which meant that they had to deliver their goods to the river and be allowed to leave to meet their fate elsewhere. Once he was confident of their destination, he cut away, back onto the rooftops – the pang at his shoulder telling him to take it easy – where he could observe the disposal safely.
The first body out of the bag was Kenton’s companion, naked and shot through the head – a look of shock still on his face. The pair of locals efficiently hacked up the body with meat cleavers – they’ve done that before, something they are good at – and threw the still large chunks into the shallows, where they vanished into greedy crocodilian mouths. They moved to the second carpet, and D’Huberres craned forward, keen to see the dead face of James Kenton.
Merde! Another Stranger! Even a day later the disappointment ran deep. He had not even stayed to watch the disposal, knowing that he had lost both Kenton and Katrina when he had them almost in his palm. He had arrived back at the safe house late and hungry and tired, to find the woman relaxed on the balcony, sipping a drink, and looking quietly satisfied. He could have killed her on the spot, and she simply turned to him and said, “Been out, Alphonse? I’m sure you should be resting that poor arm”
But now, he thought, the advantage is mine. He spent the day playing suspicious, questioning her on the previous night, her trip to “check up on the ministry men”. He was irate, unsatisfied, but gradually he let her calm his fears, let her weave her spell on him, until she was satisfied he was back under her spell. And then when she left, he had donned the filthy rags stashed outside the house, and followed her again. This time there was no mistake, this time he followed her to the Hotel, and witnessed her in the garden speaking to some old English woman – only the English dress like that to burn furniture! – and now he would have his reckoning.
Satisfied with the day’s events, his anger channelled, he turned the handle of the door to the safe-house. Taking a quick glance around he stepped inside – right into the barrel of a Thompson sub-machinegun.
“I trust, Monsieur, that I have not wasted my time coming here” said the Indian, stepping past his bodyguard to glare at the startled Frenchman.
Another day, and Cairo lay still under the hot noon-day sun. Inspector Morris and Sergeant Taylor pushed through the crowds towards the British Embassy, on the way to another meeting with the Ministry. Alphonse D’Huberres was explaining Katrina’s betrayal to the Indian in the safe-house, and awaiting her return and the reckoning it would bring. James Kenton, hungry, tired and increasingly frantic was lying in an anonymous basement awaiting interrogation, and he guessed, painful death. The Duchess was unpacking in her new Hotel, grumbling at the serving staff, and silently urging haste on the end of her sojourn here. Katrina stalked to Kenton’s basement, her pulse up, and cheeks flushed at the thought of the afternoon’s work to come.
None of them paid any attention to the battered Ford 4-AT Trimotor “Tin Goose” as it descended from the clear blue skies towards the airport. An aircraft once the height of passenger transport, cutting-edge in the year of it’s introduction, the year of the Great Crash, now most were in private hands, it’s speed and range still a prized asset years after they had ceased being produced. Unmarked except for its registration, the corrugated aluminium body reflected the high sun through the clouds of dust kicked up by it’s three engines as it taxied to an empty bay stood off the main flight line.
Inside the Chinaman waited, stood motionless by the main door. It had been nearly 24 hours since the death of the Mother, 24 hours of a freedom he had not experienced in decades, not since he had been snared and his will bent to that of the terrible creature in the cave. And now he was dying, as dependant upon her as the myriad crawling insects that she had spawned, but unlike them, wandering blindly and aimlessly until death overtook them, he knew enough to save himself. The Box would lead him to the Orichalcum, the Orichalcum would revitalise his ancient body, and the power that it granted him would be reward enough for his years of unwilling service.
The door opened, and bright light flooded into the cockpit. He turned to the co-pilot, a useful hireling ignorant of the things he was involved in. “Stay here. I will not be long”.
The Chinaman stepped out into the Cairene afternoon. Years in close proximity to the Mother had taught him many things, that the senses of the mind are greater than the senses of the body, that will is all, that the strong prosper, and the weak are enslaved or disposed of. He had felt the Mother weaken over the years, heard her frustration whispered through the ether, watched as the Brotherhood, the duplicates, Wilmarth, Harpenden, so many others defy her and pay the price, but every time getting further, every time it was easier, and he had waited. And his time was now.
He looked down. A street urchin. They look the same everywhere, desperate, weak, starved.
“I bring a message, from Apep, who rules the underworld. He senses you, he knows your power, and he will not interfere with you should you not interfere with him. Cross him and his vengeance will be terrible”
The Chinaman smiled. A warning. A sign of weakness. He reached down to the boy.
“Thank you. I have a message to send in return to this…Apep”
And then he walked off into the town, following the beacon in his mind that was the key. Behind him on the dusty ground, throat slashed, blood draining into the earth, the urchin thrashed the last of his life away.
Morris stalked into the British Embassy, a brown paper wrapped bundle under his arm and a tired looking Sergeant Taylor trailing behind him. The guard, now used to his daily visits, held the door for him, and the desk clerk picked up the phone to call Thatcher down from his rooms without prompting. Morris reached over to him and interrupted his call. “Tell him if he keeps me waiting again I’ll leave. He has five minutes.”
The clerk looked surprised, but conveyed the message. Morris and Taylor stood at the desk and waited.
Dragged from the basement, Kenton’s imprisonment had taken a turn for the surreal. From lightless starvation in a dank room stinking of mould and his own excrement, he had been washed, given clothes, and led to a comfortable room of draperies and cushions. Soft lighting filtered through the windows, but they where bared, and the door locked. Shrugging, Kenton settled into a pile of cushions to await whatever fate had in store for him next. The door opened.
“Hello again James. I trust that they are treating you well”
It was that woman again. She strode over to him, a lithe seductive walk, confident, sexual, and more than a little intimidating. He started to rise, but she reached him as he was on his knees and gently pushed him back onto the cushions, her legs straddling his as she pushed her weight onto his hips, and he folded backwards.
“Relax James, there’s no need to stand on ceremony. A only came for a little chat”
Her presence was intoxicating. The khaki shirt was too low, his eyes where drawn, despite themselves to her cleavage, the weight of her on top of him exacting a more primitive reaction, and he felt his new trousers tighten. She leaned forward, her face close to his, the deep brown eyes surprisingly soft as she stared, unblinkingly into his. She smiled.
“Why Mr Kenton, you are quite forward. And we’ve only just met”
Somehow he spoke. “Who – who are you. What do you want?”
“Straight to business? You’re very direct”
He tried banter. “Well, I wouldn’t want to waste your time”. Weak, James, weak.
The smile again. Beautiful, sharp, like a shark. “Very well” She shifted her weight, grinding her hips against him. He grimaced, flushed. “The Pendant James. This is what it’s all about. Give it to me and you can go….or stay?” The promise hung the air, the carrot after the stick.
“I don’t have it”
“But I can’t believe that, James. I know you have it. You’re not wearing it, but you have it.” She leaned forward, less than an inch from his face, hair falling forward like a curtain on the rest of world. Just the two of them. He felt something touch his chest.
“Perhaps you swallowed it? Safe, just waiting until it comes out again?”
It was a knife. He hadn’t noticed she was carrying it. It was resting, point through the cloth of his shirt, straight into the base of his breastbone. Suddenly Kenton was no longer unsure whether to be terrified or attracted to this strange alluring killer. He was terrified.
“..no…it’s safe…” He stammered.
“Safe? Where would it be James? With someone?” The knife moved downwards, cutting through cloth, sending shivers up Kenton’s spine. “Not with the policemen, not with Outhwaite. Who do you know in Cairo that you trust?”
Anadil paced the rooms of Outhwaite’s house. Two nights he had been gone, with no word. Even for a man as deeply involved with her Uncle’s ‘business’ as Peter was, since they have been together he had taken care to never be so long without sending a message. And with Uncle James turning up again…surely the only two men she had ever really trusted, ever loved, could come to no harm together? But the doubt nagged at her, and paced the house, fingering the Pendant that James Kenton had given to her to guard.
Charles Thatcher looked shocked. About bloody time, thought Taylor. The bastard had been subject to a grilling by the Inspector, a quiet, thorough interrogation that had it had been a pleasure to be party to. It was the paperwork that did it. Morris had pulled letters, photographs and telegrams from Cairo and London, the result of a frantic night and morning on the telephone, at the cable office and in the dark Cairene streets with the two Nubians. Despite himself Taylor was warming to them, if only he could get his tongue around their damned strange names.
“So in conclusion, Mr Thatcher,” Morris’ voice was collected, low and menacing. “This D’Huberres and your ‘rebellious’ Indian have the box. Kenton has the key. My contact is missing, probably dead, which means that Kenton, and the key are in the hands of either the Frenchman or the mysterious woman who is following us around. Or someone else. Or not.
“My concern is what the Ministry’s involvement in all this is. Wakely was prepared to murder a British citizen to stop Kenton escaping with the Key. You have dragged myself and Sergeant Taylor across the world to catch D’Huberres on the pretext that we could identify him, yet I was able to get a damn fine description of him cabled from a contact in London on a mere mention of the name. I don’t think that we’re necessary for that, somehow.
“So you need a catspaw. Unknowns. People who are not involved. That’s us. Wakely wanted agents that his enemies wouldn’t know, and you’re following his lead. Well I’ve had enough, Thatcher. You can level with us, and let us help you, or I’m getting on the next damn ship out of here and going back to London.”
Thatcher sipped his tea, a comforting gesture, habitual, that seemed to relax him. “It’s not that simple, Inspector”
“Don’t give me that”
“It’s not. I don’t know what’s going on. I was briefed by Sir Archibald on only what he thought I need to know.”
”Sounds familiar” snorted Taylor.
“I don’t know what’s in the box. I only know that I was told that if it where opened by anyone, anyone hostile to the Empire, that we would all be in great peril. He wanted you. Personally, Inspector. He held you in very high regard. I want to catch his killers, I want to stop this box, whatever it is, being opened. But I need you to do it.”
He paused. The arrogance he had displayed in previous meetings had gone.
Morris smiled, wolfishly. “Well, since you asked nicely, I have another surprise for you” Taylor grinned too. The moment he’s been waiting for. “Our investigations have borne fruit. We know where D’Huberres is staying. So get your men together, and lets go and pick him up. Maybe we’ll get this box of yours as well”
Anadil screamed as the door exploded inwards in a shower of wood shards and orphaned nails. A gun! Peter kept a gun here somewhere! She sprinted into the bedroom, flung open his drawers, listening for the pad of footsteps behind her. There! She spun around, raising the pistol, pulling frantically at the trigger. Nothing! She closed her eyes as the figure came closer, trying to think of the instruction he had given her. Safety Catch. She fumbled with the weapon, eyes now open and frantically scanning the side of the gun for the catch she knew was there. There! She flicked with trembling fingers, looked up to the figure and…
He felt the pendant. So close that he would taste with his mind. The house, another anonymous hovel in this festering and filthy city. The door, locked, but not strong. Inside through western furnishings, the Pendant moving in his mental landscape, with the screaming woman fleeing before his power. She had a gun, such a little thing. A shot, a tear in his body, a fleeting pain to be ignored, and he reached her, hands on her neck, a wrench, a twist and the terrified sobs ceased forever. As if another westerners’ whore in this city would be missed.
He reached down to the corpse, and pulled the chain from around her ravaged and torn neck. The Key. His at last. He looked up, old, nearly sightless eyes unfocused as his mind hunted for a fainter signal. The box, it’s contents calling to him. He turned, leaving the house, and headed back into the late afternoon streets
Katrina reached the safe house feeling pleased with herself. Kenton had responded well to their little chat, and whilst he had been surprisingly hesitant to reveal where the Key was, she was confident that it would be in her possession soon. And she had learned so much else, of Wakely, and the Policemen. She smiled to herself. Men can be so talkative if given the right…incentives, she thought.
She approached the door. “I wonder if the Indian is here yet?” she thought to herself. The telegram to bring him here, to be present for the endgame, and to bring the box to the Duchess without realising it, another clever trick. And she would soon be rid of poor Alphonse, and wouldn’t have to but up with his Gallic patronising any longer. She could here muffled conversation upstairs. He must be here. Excellent.
“Ah, Katrina” The English educated voice greeted as she walked in. “Glad you could join us. How goes the hunt for my key?”
“Very well. I should have it by tomorrow.” She saw the box on the table, next to the battered Wilmarth Manuscript, a nice bonus that. “Ah, the box. You brought it!”
“Of course. There is little time to waste. Many forces move against us.”
D’Huberres stepped forward from the shadows, close to her. “But you know that, don’t you, me cherie?”
He backhanded her, his good arm slicing across his body, catching her under the chin throwing her back onto one of the low chairs. She leapt up like a cat, instantly, knife out, and then froze, eyes bright with rage. The D’Huberres’ gun was pointed straight at her, and the Indian’s two bodyguards both held weapons covering her. A mental calculation; her knife against D’Huberres pistol, Sanjit’s Thompson, Dijon’s shotgun. Not good.
“You have betrayed us, Katrina.” The Indian continues, as if the frozen tableau of impending violence was perfectly normal. “To an English woman. An annoyance we will have to deal with after we have finished with you.”
D’Huberres grinned at her. “It never pays to underestimate me, you should have known that.”
“Hmmm. Please put the knife down, Katrina. There is no reason for this to be any more unpleasant than it has to be. Tell us about this Englishwoman, tell us what she wants. We may be able to reach a deal. We may be able to” - a pause, a smile - “remain friends”
She spat at him, angrier at herself than at them. How could she have made such an error? “Fuck yourself”
“Such language. You will help us Katrina, your skills as an information gatherer,” he smiled at the euphemism, “means that you know that will get our information, one way or another. All you can choose is the amount of pain and humiliation you suffer in the process.”
She tensed. She was dead anyway, at least this smug bastard would go with her. D’Huberres must had sensed her mind, she saw him shift his gun for better aim. She counted in her head, counting to the moment, as the Indian calmly waited for her to make her choice.
Three… Two… There was a knock at the door. Loud. Heavy. She felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck.
The two policemen, Thatcher and his ministry men, as well as the two Nubian heavies pushed through the early evening crowds, weapons packed in bags, heading for the safehouse identified in the previous long night’s work. “They picked a nice area, eh sir?”
“What?” Morris was tense, feeling too old for evening shoot outs with international criminal gangs, no matter what the cause.
“Well, look at the view, they got the Pyramids, that lion thing...”
“…yeah, and look at the houses – posh things the lot of ‘em. Just the sort of place I’d hang out if I was in the run.”
Taylor grinned. “Yes sir, ‘shut up Taylor’, straight away sir”
“Thank you, Taylor. And good luck for tonight”
They heard it before they reached the house. Gunfire. The crack of pistols, then the long, instantly recognisable sound of a machine gun. The group froze for a moment, then, weapons unpacked, they started to run.
The second knock was accompanied by the sound of splintering wood. The tableau in the room upstairs stayed frozen, unsure.
The Indian nodded to one of his men. “Dijon. Find out who it is. Kill them.” Dijon, a six foot six mulatto, and one of the Indian’s prized thugs, grunted and headed for the stairs.
Another knock. A crash, like the remains of a thick wooden door falling to the floor. A shout, a shot, the deep crack of a shotgun, then steps up the stairs.
The group at the top all turned to look.
Dijon barrelled back through the door, backwards, firing the second barrel of his gun down the stairs. He cracked it to reload, but a figure, covered in blood from obvious shotgun blasts, reached forward and grabbed his arm. The giant screamed.
The box was so close it inflamed his senses. The fool who had tried to stop him had hurt him deeply, the gunshots carving through his chest, his organs, burning his lungs, piercing his heart. He was stronger than that. He pressed forward, his will pushing his old and broken body up the stairs, through the second shot, till the massive figure had paused to fiddle with his weapon. A touch. Another of the Mother’s tricks, and his attackers lifeforce flowed into him, re-knitting bone, healing flesh, the man dropping, shrivelled to the floor. Four more fools guarded the box. He stepped forward, relishing the fight.
D’Huberres fired, Tight accurate shots from his Astra M1921M slammed into the Chinaman, the .45ACP rounds blowing craters in his chest that should have stopped anyone. The Chinaman just walked towards him. But D’Huberres wasn’t suffering Dijon’s fate – he flung his self sidewards as the gun’s magazine ran dry, shouting “Shoot Him!!” at Sanjit who was standing thunderstruck with Thompson loose in his grasp.
He landed in a corner, fumbling for a spare magazine, the Chinaman advancing on Sanjit, the greatest threat standing. As the Chinaman reached out for him, both the Indian, white with fear, and D’Huberres, slotting a new clip into his Astra, screamed at him to fire, but it too late, the short burst cut off as the Chinaman’s clawlike hands grabbed his arms. The smoking Thompson fell to the floor, clattering next to the Indian as Sanjit screamed as his life was sucked away.
The Indian reached for the box, but a knife suddenly appeared in his arm, and he shrieked, dropping it, and Katrina caught it in midair and turned to escape. The Chinaman, injuries rehealed – but not all, D’Huberres noticed as he raised the pistol, this thing is killable – turned after her. She was fast, but not fast enough. The Chinaman grabbed her throat, fist tightening and D’Huberres could see her fighting for breath as he choked the life out of her. D’Huberres fired.
The “M” model of the Spanish-built Astra was distinctive for one thing. It could be fired fully automatically. The selector switch moved, the 8-round magazine emptied in a couple of seconds, a single, wild burst at close range into the back of the Chinaman. A window shattered, the desk splintered, and D’Huberres target staggered back, dropping the unconscious Katrina and giving the injured Indian precious seconds to try to get the box and get clear. D’Huberres himself slumped back against the wall, the recoil tearing his damaged shoulder muscles again, the strength gone from his arm, the empty pistol dropping to the ground amongst the pile of discarded casings.
The Indian grabbed the box from the downed woman, and sprinted out of the door. The Chinaman straightened himself, his clothes tattered, blood running from partially healed wounds across his body. Will. It is all Will. He moved. Leaving the room, the Frenchman, the Woman, behind, after the fleeing man carrying the box. He heard the man stumble of the stairs, his panicked haste betraying him. He followed, a Dark Angel of Death, no rush now, confident of final victory.
The Indian had fallen at the foot of the stairs, twisting his ankle, dragging himself away from the room and the thing that was pursuing him with his one good arm, the box gripped in his blood-soaked injured arm. He made it to the street before he was caught, lifted up by the throat by the wizened old man that had somehow survived all that his men had thrown at him.
“Fool” The cracked voice spoke to him, the last thing he would hear, filling his world. “I have them both, and I will have the power.”
The Chinaman dropped the corpse, and taking the box, strode off with a purpose towards the vast ancient monuments in the near distance.
D’Huberres looked up, the pain from his shoulder fogging his vision, straight along the barrel of Sanjit’s Thompson. Katrina looked down back at him, a slight smile on her face.
“It looks like we all lose, Alphonse darling. My apologies for underestimating you. You saved my life there. Now I save yours.” The gun was pulled away, and then she was gone.
He stood up, and moved to the shattered window. In the street the body of the Indian lay surrounded by onlookers, and entering the small plaza on the far side, guns brandished, was the two policemen from New Brighton.
And deep in the Waha, in a darkened room in a Qahwa behind an ancient fountain, a voice shaken with rage and grief issued a command his shaken followers, one that would spread through the Cairene underworld in a matter of hours.
“They have taken the life of that which is dearest to me! A curse on the Westerners who have brought Death to my city. Kill them. Kill them all!”