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Death on Tour

By Elsie Bell,2014-11-04 20:17
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From Publishers WeeklyA passport's not needed to enjoy Hamrick's ditzy debut, the first in a new cozy series and the winner of the 2010 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. While Austin, Tex., high school teacher Jocelyn Shore and her fashionista cousin and best friend, Kyla Shore, are on an Egyptian tour, one of their group, unpopular 55-year-old Millie Owens, takes a fatal plunge off the great pyramid of Khafre outside Cairo. The police later determine that Millie was murdered, stabbed in the neck. Entries in a journal that Jocelyn finds in Millie's bag suggests someone on the tour might be dangerous. Good-looking Alan Stratton, who's traveling alone and wears no wedding ring, adds romantic interest. Hamrick does a good job capturing life o Published by Minotaur Books on 2011/04/26

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    To my parents Joyrene and James Pope and to my daughters Jacqueline and Jennifer Hamrick whohave always been there for me and who always believed I could

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    Acknowledgments

    Writing might be a solitary activity, but thank goodness it is never done in isolation. Myheartfelt thanks go to my wonderful editor, Kelley Ragland of Minotaur Books, for hermeticulous work in editing this manuscript and for believing in it in the first place, and toSt. Martin’s Minotaur and the Mystery Writers of America for sponsoring the First Crime NovelCompetition and giving me this opportunity. My gratitude also goes to the following wonderfulpeople at Minotaur Books: Matt Martz, who kept me on track and answered my millions ofquestions with unfailing patience, Anna Chang for her awesome copyediting skills, and David

    Baldeosingh Rotstein and Ben Perini, who designed and illustrated the coolest cover art ever.My thanks go to my agent, David Hale Smith, for taking a chance on me and for his much-neededadvice, encouragement, and guidance. And finally, I would like to thank Cindy Marszal forreading my first drafts, for saying all the right things even when those things were hard, andfor sharing the writing adventure with me.

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    Contents

    Title Page

    Dedication

    Acknowledgments

    Sunday, Cairo

    1.? Death of a Tourist

    2.? Carpets and Creeps

    3.? Mummies and Mishaps

    Monday, Cairo to Aswan

    4.? Planes and Papyrus

    5.? Islands and Intrigue

    Tuesday, Abu Simbel

    6.? Changelings and Challenges

    7.? Monuments and Murder

    8.? Ships and Shoplifting

    Wednesday, Edfu

    9.? Hawkers and Horses

    10.? Lounges and Lizards

    Thursday, Valley of the Kings

    11.? Tombs and Troubles

    12.? Necklaces and Knockouts

    Friday, Queens and Karnak

    13.? Headaches and Hatshepsut

    14.? Karnak and Chaos

    Saturday and Beyond

    15.? Resolutions and Reunions

    Copyright

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    Sunday, Cairo

    After a restful night in your luxury hotel, join your Egyptologist and traveling companions ona short ride to the necropolis at Giza where you’ll see the enigmatic Sphinx and marvel at theawe-inspiring great pyramids. Travel by luxury coach to ancient Memphis to admire the 40-footstatue of Ramses II and the Alabaster Sphinx. Next, a quick stop at the Step Pyramid atSaqqara, followed by a demonstration of the making of world-famous Egyptian silk carpets. No

    visit to Cairo would be complete without a visit to the Egyptian Museum, where you will see the

    treasures of King Tut and the most famous mummies in the world.

    —WorldPal pamphlet

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Chapter 1

    DEATH OF A TOURIST

    The body lay facedown in the sand beside the giant stone blocks of the great pyramid of Khafre.Overhead, the blue sky flickered dimly through a haze born on the khamsin winds whistlingrelentlessly from the desert. The morning air was still cool and very dry, but full of thepromise of heat to come. Men wearing head cloths and flowing tunics ran back and forth likeants, shouting in Arabic, while camel drivers stood beside their indifferent animals, craningtheir necks and talking excitedly. Policemen carrying automatic rifles guarded the perimeter ofthe crowd, looking alert and dangerous, when only a few minutes before they had been sleepy andbored.

    Our tour group stood huddled together in a little knot a few yards from a brightly colored heapof clothes that had once been Millie Owens. Every few seconds, one of us broke from the herd,caught a glimpse of the body, and hurried back to the safety of the circle. It seemedimpossible that the body was really there, that it wasn’t some horrible mistake, and thatMillie wasn’t really just resting and would soon bounce up and start annoying us again. Iwished she would.

    Almost, anyway. I’m a high school history teacher, and I’m well acquainted with the fullrange of human behavior, but I’d never seen anyone who grated on the nerves of an entire grouplike Millie Owens, not even in PTA meetings. To be honest, the sight of her dead body lying atthe base of the pyramid was not nearly as disturbing as it should have been. I glanced aroundat the faces of my traveling companions of the last two days. Everyone looked worried, but noone was crying, unless you counted a pair I called the ditz duo, who were wailing and whirlingaround like the dervishes we were supposed to see at dinner tonight. Our guide, Anni, washalfheartedly trying to calm them. The rest of us stood in shocked silence. Shocked, yes, butnot grieving.

    What bothered me the most was that it seemed that no one had seen what had happened, or atleast no one was admitting it. Granted, the morning light was barely kissing the stones of thepyramids and the inevitable tourist hordes had not yet descended, but literally scores ofpeople milled about. The hawkers with their postcards and plaster statues of Horus. The dozenor more carriage drivers with their unenthusiastic horses. The tourist police, managing to lookboth incompetent and frightening at the same time. Our own group of twenty-two, now down byone.

    So how was it that no one had seen a fifty-five-year-old woman climb onto a pyramid and fall toher death? Our group could probably be excused because most of us spent a good deal of effortstaying away from Millie. A buffer of twenty paces was the minimum required to avoidinteraction. Just last night, I’d been scouring through my Egyptian phrase book for thecorrect phrase for “pepper spray.” Not that I’d have really used it on the old bat, but itwould be nice to have, just in case I could take no more. Millie was one of those intense,pushy women who seemed to be in constant motion. Her mouth moved in an unending stream offatuous observations, idiotic questions, and catty gossip. While the rest of us were stillmaking introductions, she somehow knew everyone’s names, and a great deal more. She had a wayof weaseling out details and then making rather shrewd guesses to fill in the gaps, and shewasn’t above snooping. I’d caught her going through my backpack on the bus during the veryshort trip from the hotel to the pyramids, less than an hour ago, and she’d just gazedunblushingly at me and handed it back.

    “Diarrhea already or just playing it safe?” she’d asked loudly, an embarrassing reference tomy Imodium.

    I’d glared at her, unable to think of a snappy retort quickly enough. I suppose I should begrateful I hadn’t been carrying anything worse. And I was pretty sure she’d stolen the newstrawberry lip balm I’d bought the day before at the hotel gift shop.

    Millie was?… or had been?… living proof that no one ever really changed after high school. Ina school the size of the one in which I taught, I saw a dozen Millies every day. She was the

    kid who bounded into a group of pretty, popular girls like a slobbering stray, oblivious to thediscomfort she caused, clueless to the social cues that might have allowed her to join in. Thenicer girls tolerated her for a few moments before suddenly remembering homework or priorcommitments. The meaner girls were openly rude, cutting her with razor-sharp tongues beforeflouncing away in disgust in the face of her hurt incomprehension. The Millies of the highschool world broke my heart, but that didn’t make them any easier to tolerate in the adultworld.

    Not surprisingly, our Millie had been traveling alone. She had droned on at great length abouther traveling companion’s attack of appendicitis striking only hours before their plane wasscheduled to take off. I decided that this “traveling companion” was either fictitious or hadburst her own appendix with an ice pick. My own traveling companion, my cousin Kyla, backed theformer because she contended that no one would have agreed to come with Millie in the firstplace. My money was on the latter because, as I pointed out, there’s no explaining how onechooses one’s roommates. It took her only a second.

    “Bitch,” she said admiringly.

    But that was all yesterday. Today, the March sun was brilliant even through the haze, and poor,sad Millie Owens was dead, which no one could have wished for her. And something had goneseriously wrong with our beautiful trip to Egypt.

    I leaned against the stones of the pyramid, cool in the morning air, and wondered how manyothers had done so throughout the millennia since they had been carved. Maybe not many. Had theEgyptians spent much time in their cities of the dead after the pharaohs had been laid to rest?The huge necropolis had been a thriving community, almost a small city during construction, butwhat about afterward when the work was finished and the new pharaoh was far away fighting warsor building new monuments? I imagined an unearthly silence enveloping everything as the windpushed the sand higher around the stones until they were all but swallowed by the desert.

    Pretty much the opposite of what was going on now. The police were now moving among thevendors. I’d never heard so much shouting to so little purpose. Even after two months with myPimsleur CDs, I could not understand more than two or three words of Arabic, but I could tellthat they were getting nothing out of the bystanders. Wild gestures, head shakes, points andshrugs, but not one coherent statement as far as I could tell. Somehow, impossibly, Millie hadclimbed up onto one of the gigantic blocks of the pyramid and then fallen to her death.

    It just made no sense. Large though the blocks were—and they were far too big for an out-of-shape tourist to climb without help—they just weren’t that tall. A fall of five or six feetat most. Far enough to break an arm, or a hip, I thought, glancing at the wizened, ancientfigures of Charlie and Yvonne de Vance, but a neck? Maybe if she’d managed to get up to thesecond layer and somehow bounced off the first.

    One of the policemen beckoned to our tour guide, Anni, who joined him a few paces away. Anniwas a lovely and interesting mixture of traditional and modern Egyptian. A little younger thanme, probably in her midtwenties, she had large dark eyes made to seem even larger by kohleyeliner and thick mascara. She wore a lightweight turtleneck shirt carefully pinned to herheadscarf to ensure that no part of her neck or hair showed, but over that she wore a t-shirtwith an I WorldPal logo. Jeans and tennis shoes completed the outfit. In one hand, she held apink Hello Kitty umbrella, which she used, not for protection from nonexistent rain, but as abeacon for gathering her small flock around her. Everywhere we went, we followed Hello Kittylike a row of ducklings following their mother.

    Now she began a rapid torrent of Arabic with the policeman. The only word I understood was“la,” which meant “no.” She said it a lot.

    My cousin Kyla joined me beside the stone, looking worried. She is far too careful about herclothes to lean against a dusty pyramid, but today she stood stiffly upright a pace away,looking striking as always. Her long dark hair, the exact color and texture of mine, was pulled

    into an elegant twist, gleaming in the sun. I’m not sure how she managed it, but her tanslacks and lemon shirt still looked crisp and pressed. And now, while the rest of us fretted,she looked perfectly cool and composed.

    A façade. I could tell she was as worried as anyone.

    “What do you think is going on?” she asked under her breath.

    “I think they’re going to arrest us all and throw us into Turkish prison.”

    “Besides that.”

    “No idea.”

    She gave me a look. Kyla may look slim and elegant from a distance, but she is basically a pitbull without the fur. Back home in Austin, she leads a team of software developers with a greatdeal of organization, energy, and blunt speech. She also deeply believes that she is fullycapable of handling any situation at any time, which I am happily and constantly pointing outto her is just not true. In return, I’m pretty sure she considers me weak and cowardly, mostlybecause she has called me both to my face. Still, there was no one I would rather have with meon any kind of adventure, and when I invited her to join me on a tour of Egypt, she said yesalmost before the words were out of my mouth. Of course, she then spent the next six weekstrying to talk me into skipping the tour group and going about on our own, which was completelycrazy. I’d wanted to go to Egypt my whole life. The pyramids, the mummies, the Nile. A dreamtrip, the fulfillment of a childhood desire. But go without the protection of a group and aguide who at least spoke the language? In a country where guards with machine guns stood onevery corner and escorted every busload of tourists? No way. And if Kyla thought I was acoward, I could live with that. Of course, it seemed that even tour groups couldn’t protectyou from everything. Millie’s death could hardly be considered part of the normal WorldPalpackage, but I knew if it interfered with our trip, Kyla was never going to let me hear the endof it.

    I turned my thoughts back to the accident. The whole thing bothered me, and not just because alonely middle-aged woman was dead.

    “How do you think she got up there?” I wondered aloud.

    She glanced behind me at the huge blocks. The top of her head barely cleared the upper rim ofthe stone. “I could get up there if I wanted to,” she announced.

    “So could I, if a lion was chasing me. But not any other way. And she was a lot older than weare.”

    Kyla considered. “She was pretty wiry,” she said doubtfully. “I mean, look at Flora andFiona. They must be about a hundred, but I’ve seen Fiona tossing suitcases like a teamster.”

    I ignored this. “And even if she did climb up and fall, how could that kill her?” I eyed thesad little heap from where we stood, but there was no way I was going over to check.

    “Stranger things have happened,” she answered.

    Maybe, I thought. But I couldn’t think of any.

    One by one, the rest of the group joined us against the side of the pyramid. The youngestmembers of the group, two teenage boys called Chris and David Peterson, gave a hop and hoistedthemselves onto the blocks, demonstrating how easy it was if you were a teenage boy. I couldsee their plump little mother open her mouth to call them back and then think better of it.

    A few paces away, the Australian woman, Lydia Carpenter, dug in her purse for cigarettes andmoved downwind to light up. Her husband, Ben, joined her, and the two of them stood with theirheads together, conversing quietly. I watched them with interest. Lydia always carried a littlemetal box into which she dropped her ashes, even here in the desert, with nothing but sand anddust at her feet. Which didn’t seem to be good enough for some people. Jerry Morrison, alawyer from somewhere in California, gave a snort of disgust and muttered something about a“filthy habit” in a stage whisper. He was traveling with his adult daughter, who joined himin moving away and turning their backs. Lydia and Ben stared at them with contempt.

    One of the men in our group, a dark-haired giant with a booming voice, began talking aboutMillie a few paces away, and Kyla and I both perked up our ears and moved forward a step or twoto listen.

    “No, she is definitely dead,” he said, speaking to a young Asian couple, who were lookingworried. Noticing our interest, he gave a small shrug. “I’m a doctor. I checked her pulsebefore the police pushed me away.”

    “I don’t understand how she could die from a fall like that,” I said.

    He nodded. “She may have caught her head on the stone and broken her neck. They wouldn’t letme examine her more thoroughly, but there was blood on the back of her neck, at the base of theskull. A tragic accident.”

    I wished I could remember his name. Subdued now, he was ordinarily an exuberant personalitywith the dark skin of his Indian ancestors and the kind of voice that needed no microphone. Hecould easily have been obnoxious, but somehow instead managed to be extraordinarily likable.

    Kyla held out her hand. “Kyla Shore. Sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.”

    He beamed at her, forgetting to be somber. “DJ.” His huge hand swallowed hers. “DJ Gavaskarfrom Los Angeles. And this is my wife, Nimmi.” He beckoned enthusiastically and his wifejoined him.

    Nimmi was a small woman, slim and catlike. Gold gleamed from her ears and throat, her shirt wasof beautiful raw silk, and her bag was a large Louis Vuitton that probably cost two week’ssalary—mine, not hers. Dressed to impress. She was the kind of woman it might be fun todislike at first glance, but her eyes and smile were as warm as her husband’s, and I foundmyself returning her smile. She held out her hand and gave me a ladylike fingertip handshake.Her fingers were cool and small, like a little bird. I instantly felt large and clumsy.

    “Of course we have met, but it is difficult to learn so many names at once,” she said with asmile.

    “Jocelyn Shore,” I told her.

    She smiled and glanced from me to Kyla. “And are you twins?”

    I didn’t dare look at Kyla, although I could sense the sudden arctic chill coming from herdirection.

    “No. Actually we’re not even sisters. We’re first cousins.”

    “Really? Well, the family resemblance is striking. You are both beautiful girls.”

    I gave a polite smile, feeling my face redden a little. It always puzzled me how people couldsay such extraordinarily embarrassing and personal things right to your face without a hint ofself-consciousness. And Nimmi was not nearly old enough to get away with calling me a girl.

    DJ broke in. “I was just telling Keith and Dawn that I’d examined the body.”

    Nimmi gave a delicate shudder. “So tragic.”

    I glanced at the other couple. I didn’t know much about the Kims yet, other than they werefrom Seattle and either one or both of them worked in a lab researching food additives. I likedthe way they held hands whenever possible, and kept their eyes on each other when it wasn’t. Isuspected they had not been married very long.

    Another half hour slipped away and the group attitude changed subtly from horrified shock toannoyed boredom. I’ve noticed it often, the development of a group personality, completelyindependent of the personalities of any of the members. I saw it in my classes. Somehow oneperiod of world history became fascinating and enjoyable, while the next was complete agony andI struggled to keep the kids awake. A group of adults is the same. After only a few hourstogether, we’d already gelled into a single entity with its own needs and agenda. Lookingaround, I could see that while any one of us would claim we were filled with concern andsorrow, the group as a whole was tired and bored and wanted to get on with the day. After all,we had only a week in Egypt, and no one was exactly brokenhearted that Millie Owens wouldn’t

    be monopolizing our guide’s attention, snooping through bags that didn’t belong to her, andasking the most painfully brainless questions ever asked in the history of human speech. Thegroup was ready to move on.

    At last, Anni rejoined us, looking appropriately somber and concerned. She did a quick headcount in Arabic under her breath.

    “Where are Flora and Fiona? Does anyone see them?” she asked.

    We gave a collective sigh and glanced around unenthusiastically. The ditz duo had never yetbeen on time for a rendezvous. During our meet and greet yesterday, they’d said they weresisters, but they didn’t look alike at all. Flora had short gray hair, cropped like a man’son the sides, but with a ridiculous fluffy puff on top. She had a way of staring through herglasses as though they were fogged, and she couldn’t focus very well. Fiona was tall and thin,with impossibly black wispy hair, worn long and untamed as God intended. Unlikely bits of itstood at attention at different times, making it hard to concentrate on anything else. Herglasses were racy cat’s-eye horn-rims, her hands large and clawlike. I admit I’d searchedsurreptitiously for a hint of an Adam’s apple when we’d first met.

    DJ spotted them at last near a police officer on a camel. Both camel and officer appeared to bewatching them somewhat incredulously. They were looking at a map, which was flapping in thewind, and gesturing to each other wildly. DJ shouted at them and waved Hello Kitty, while Annihurried forward to retrieve them.

    They rejoined the group all in a dither. “We couldn’t find you. We were afraid you’d left,”said Fiona breathlessly.

    “Yes, we were hiding behind the big pink umbrella,” said Kyla under her breath.

    “Well, we are all here now,” said Anni. “And Mohammad is coming,” she said, referring toher counterpart who had met most of us at the airport and whisked us through customs with speedand efficiency. “He is going to handle everything about…” she hesitated.

    I could tell she didn’t know how to refer to the body. She went on gamely, “… about Millie.I have told the police that we know nothing at all about how the accident happened, and we arefree to go. Now, what does everyone want to do? We can return to the hotel and rest,” shesuggested.

    The group howled a protest. We were in Cairo. We were standing against the sun-drenched side ofthe four-thousand-year-old pyramid of the great pharaoh Khafre. Twenty paces away, a deep andmysterious tunnel guarded by dark men clad in flowing tunics plunged sharply downward into theheart of the pyramid itself. Nearby, just upwind in fact, waited a caravan of camels led byenigmatic denizens of the desert who had delved the secrets of point and click digital cameras.Go to the hotel? The only dead body that could have made that seem attractive was my own.

    Alan Stratton spoke up. “I think we’d all like to carry on as planned,” he said firmly.

    I looked at him speculatively, noting again the absence of a wedding ring. He was tall, in hisearly thirties, and traveling alone, which by itself would have made him the most interestingperson on the trip, even if he hadn’t also been very nice looking. Kyla and I had noticed himright away and were dying to learn his story and figure out why he was by himself, but so farwe hadn’t had a chance. He seemed to linger quietly on the edge of the group, but was neverquite part of the group, which was actually something of a feat in itself. While the rest of ushuddled together in shock, he’d been one of the few to hurry to Millie’s side after theinitial discovery, and I’d seen him talking to the police and then to Anni. Now he was actingas our spokesman, saying aloud what we were all thinking.

    Anni looked around at the rest of us, who were nodding like bobblehead dolls on the dashboardof a semi.

    “Then that is what we shall do. Now, who said that they wanted to go inside the pyramid?” sheasked, spreading a stack of colorful tickets like a deck of cards.

*???*???*

    Half an hour later, we hopped back on the bus and took a very short drive around to the westernside of the pyramids, where a veritable herd of camels waited for us. This was one of theadvantages of being on a tour—we never had to walk very far and we didn’t have to haggle forour own camels. Anni kept us on the bus an extra moment to give instructions about tippingwhile we pressed our noses to the windows like a pack of Pomeranians.

    The scene outside was chaos. Dozens of camels lay in the sand, long bony legs folded beneaththem. Small patches of brilliant green fodder were sprinkled through the herd and contrastedsharply with the barren ground. The camels’ humps were covered by the kind of quilted padsused by movers to protect furniture, and those in turn were covered by enormous saddles withvery high horns in front and back. Patterned multicolored blankets covered the saddles. Thesewild desert camels wore coats that were almost white, instead of the sandy color preferred byordinary city camels in zoos, and managed to looked sleepy and mildly annoyed at the same time.

    On the edge of the camel herd stood about ten horses in a variety of colors, looking oddlysmall and almost apologetic by comparison. It was obvious to all concerned that real men rodecamels and only pathetic losers or possibly elderly nuns would stoop to riding around on merehorses. The camel drivers were as exotic as their charges. They wore the traditional Egyptiangalabia, a long-sleeved blue, gray, or black tunic that fell to the ankles, and most of themalso wore white or red-and-white scarves wrapped about their heads to protect themselves fromthe sun.

    We spilled off the bus in great excitement, only to be met by a squadron of shouting cameldrivers. The front-runners shied like startled deer. Dawn Kim actually turned and tried to getback on the bus, but she was blocked by rickety Charlie de Vance, who was still trying to bendhis knee replacement far enough to make it down that last step. Anni smoothly turned us over tothe one driver with whom she had an arrangement, and the others shuffled off dejectedly.

    We followed our camel driver eagerly. The redheaded Peterson boys raced ahead while theirmother shouted warnings about staying away from the camels. Fiona and Flora clutched eachothers arms like hens and kept repeating that they wanted to share a camel. Jerry Morrison heldback with his daughter, looking disdainful.

    “Filthy,” he said. “I bet they’ve got fleas.”

    “Oh, Daddy,” said the daughter. I was pretty sure her name was Kathy, and I was absolutelysure she was way too old to call her father “Daddy.”

    I hoped they were just experiencing some temporary culture shock and weren’t intending tocomplain or bicker the entire trip. I also hoped Jerry was wrong about the fleas.

    I stooped to tighten my shoelaces, willing to be one of the last to board a camel rather thanbe too close to the Morrisons. Or the ditz duo.

    “Hurry up,” said Kyla impatiently, tapping one polished leather shoe in the sand. It wasalready covered with a light coating of dust, which did not entirely displease me. I rose andjoined her.

    The camel driver beckoned to us impatiently, and we followed, picking our way gingerly past afew recumbent cud-chewing camels to join him. Our driver was immensely fat, the giant beachball of his stomach making a tent of his galabia. I imagined dozens of small desert creaturessheltering under the folds and then gave a little shudder. One of his front teeth was gold, theother missing, and his swarthy skin was covered with a light sheen of sweat.

    “Here, you two ladies. On this camel, please.” He gestured to a bored creature. I had toadmit, up close they did look a little flea-bitten.

    “Oh no,” said Kyla. “I want my own camel.”

    “No, no. Very strong. No problem for two,” he nodded emphatically.

    Kyla shot him a glance that should have made him stagger back. “I want my own camel,” sherepeated.

    He appealed to me with a look, but I just raised my eyebrows and stared coldly. It worked onseventeen-year-olds and it worked on him. His shoulders slumped a little. “This way.” And heled Kyla to another camel.

    The young man who held the lead rein of my camel gave a small private smile, then helped meinto the saddle.

    “Hold here very hard and lean back very far,” he said and waited for me to obey.

    It was good advice. I gripped the saddle horn and leaned back just in time as the camel’s backhalf rose sharply in the air, throwing me forward. Then the front half rose, throwing mesharply back. I settled back into the saddle some eight feet off the ground, pleased not tohave fallen.

    Alan Stratton came and stood beside my camel, looking up at me and shading his eyes with hishands against the brilliant morning sun. His eyes were the most remarkable color, a soft greenthat changed subtly from sage to gray depending on the light. His hair, cut short and thereforeclearly not as curly as it could have been, was a soft golden brown that had probably once beenblond. It made a very attractive little swirl at the crown of his head.

    “Having fun?” he asked. His voice was as attractive as the rest of him, deep and ever soslightly gravelly.

    I realized I was staring like an idiot. “I had no idea they were so tall,” I said inanely andimmediately wanted to kick myself.

    He gave a little grin. “Ever ridden one before?”

    “No.”

    “Me, either. You look like a natural.”

    I was trying to think of something devastatingly witty to say when a different camel herderbeckoned to Alan and led him away to one of the larger camels. I watched as the animal liftedits hind end straight up and tossed Alan forward like a rag doll. He held on gamely and thengave me a little wave of triumph. I waved back.

    The fat camel driver gave a shout, and we were off. Camels take huge, slow strides, swayingfrom one side to another. Ahead of me, the rest of the group, singly and in pairs, ploddedforward across the sand toward the pyramids. I could not believe I was actually here. I wantedto shout with excitement, to grab someone and jump up and down laughing. Kyla was too far aheadto share my exhilaration, but she would have understood. We hadn’t grown up together as kids,but my family moved to Austin for my high school years, and except for one or two quarrels,Kyla and I had been inseparable ever since. During our sophomore year, we’d both becomeobsessed with Egypt in the way that only teenage girls can obsess about anything. We saw everyDiscovery Channel special and conned our parents into driving us four hours each way to aspecial exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Saturdays were spent renting everymummy movie ever made. Of course, obsessions don’t last forever, and we’d eventually moved onto boys and clothes, but when the King Tut exhibit arrived in Dallas a couple of years ago,Kyla and I had attended the opening weekend, waiting in line for what seemed like forever inquivering anticipation.

    Now I was actually here, on a camel, riding across the sands of the Sahara toward the greatpyramids of Giza. Directly in front of me, Kathy Morrison perched stiffly in the saddle, but Ididn’t think I could share my excitement with her. I glanced back. Alan Stratton rode the lastcamel in line, a pensive look on his face. I gave him a huge grin. He met my eyes and relaxedinto a smile.

    “This is the best!” I called, and he started laughing.

    Behind him, the camel herd dotted the sand like toys scattered by a child while the immensedesert rolled away to the horizon until it blended seamlessly into the hazy sky. It was aperfect picture and without thinking I raised my little camera and snapped. For an instant, Ithought his smile faltered. I wondered if I should apologize, but the next moment he was

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