"Oh my God, they were right," Emma gasped.
She shifted her body so the light behind her shone directly
on the ancient tomb's wall. Her parents had always said the
Sicari weren't a myth. No one had believed them. Not even
Guilt bit into her. She should have trusted their
instincts, even if they hadn't always trusted her academic
knowledge. With a gentle stroke of her brush, she tapped
another piece of dried mud off the wall. The tangible icon
was evidence the elite guild of assassins had really
existed. Her father had always said the Sicari were
descendants of Ptolemy's personal guard. And here was the
proof her father had been looking for.
Awed, she stared at the partially revealed symbol on the
sandstone wall. The hilt of a sword rested against the rim
of a chakram while the blade interlocked with the circular
handheld weapon. The simplicity of the design didn't
minimize the mark's ominous appearance.
Excitement raced through her as she peered at the emblem
more closely. Her fingertip lightly brushed across the
surface of the chakram portion of the icon. The chakram,
when thrown, could slice through a skull when it hit its
victim before returning to its owner. She knew several
warrior clans in India had used the chakrams against
Alexander the Great's troops. Ptolemy had been at the
conqueror's side then, and his men could have easily
adapted the weapon for their own use.
She'd grown up listening to her dad talk about the Sicari.
Labeled assassins by the Praetorian Guard under the Roman
Caesars, they were ruthlessly hunted down, arrested, and
executed. Her father had never found any explanation for
the persecution of the Sicari, but he'd had numerous
theories. The most plausible being a power struggle within
the Guard itself when Constantine I had been Caesar and
abandoned pagan beliefs for those of the Church. Her father
had hypothesized that the few Sicari who had escaped the
persecution had gone into hiding only to become what they'd
been branded simply to survive. He'd even speculated that
they still existed.
Carefully, she dusted a fleck of dirt off the wall to
reveal a little more of the emblem. For once, she
appreciated her unique gift as well as her clumsiness. If
she hadn't tripped over her toolbox, her hand might never
have touched the spot where the icon was hidden. She could
have done without the unexpected static shock, but her
vision of a scribe etching a symbol into the wall had been
enough incentive to scrape away the top layer of plaster.
While her special talent was generally limited to ancient
artifacts, it didn't make the initial contact any less
pleasant. Just as unpleasant were the fleeting images she
sometimes saw when someone handing her an artifact brushed
against her finger.
With another stroke of her small, delicate brush, more of
the mark appeared through the dried mud. The radio attached
to her belt hissed softly, and she suddenly remembered
Charlie. He'd kill her for not calling him right away with
the news of her find. He might be her friend, but he was
boss and mentor first. Grabbing the walkie-talkie off her
belt, she pressed the talk button.
Releasing the button, she waited for a response. After
several seconds of nothing but a quiet hum, she tried
again. "Charlie, I know you're there, so stop ignoring me.
I've got something I want you to see, and it's important."
She might be deep inside the burial chamber of Cleopatra's
ancestor, Ptolemy I, but she knew the radios worked. She'd
heard from Charlie over the damn thing just an hour ago.
This time after a long pause, she heard static echo out of
her radio. Gritting her teeth, she waited for her teacher's
easy Southern drawl to warm up the dark, musty chamber
she'd been exploring. When he remained silent, she stared
at the walkie-talkie and frowned. She hit the talk button
one more time.
"Stop fooling around, Charlie. This is important," she
snapped into the receiver before releasing the
A gurgling noise burst out of the radio followed by a few
seconds of static before the chamber grew quiet again. She
growled in disgust. One of these days, he'd cry wolf once
too often with her and then where would he be if something
really was wrong.
The memory of his heart attack more than a year ago made
her frown. It hadn't been severe, but the doctors had
warned him to take it easy. Advice he'd ignored as usual.
The thought of something serious happening to Charlie sent
a wave of fear sluicing through her. If he was having a
heart attack . . . spinning around, she grabbed her
flashlight off the cool, stone floor and dived for the
narrow opening leading out of the burial chamber.
The tight squeeze had her cursing her wide hips, and not
for the first time. Coughing from the dust her movements
stirred up, she crawled as fast as she could through the
narrow tunnel toward the main chamber where Charlie had
If he was having a heart attack, they were in trouble.
There wasn't anyone except a couple of locals at the base
camp. Mike and the rest of the team had gone to survey the
artisans' cemetery almost a mile away. Not to mention the
fact that Sayid, the dig's foreman, had taken the truck
back to Abydos this morning to pick up their monthly
supplies. He wouldn't be back until late in the evening at
the earliest, and until then the camels were their only
other form of available transport.
Reaching the main chamber of the tomb, she slid out onto
the dusty, stone floor. All the lights were out, except for
the dim glow of a bulb at the chamber's main entrance more
than half a football field away. What the hell had happened
to all the lights they'd strung up two months ago?
Sayid. He'd promised her that damn generator wouldn't break
down again. If it weren't for the Magna flashlight she
carried, she'd be virtually blind. As it was, she could
barely see anything. How many ways could she grill the
man's ass? She stumbled a few steps toward the center of
the huge stone room while thinking about it.
Silence. Sweeping the light across the floor of the massive
chamber, she pushed aside her fear. But she had a hard time
ignoring the dÃ©jÃ vu slithering its way into her head. The
whisper of a sound reached her ears and she spun around
trying to determine its origin. She saw nothing except
muraled walls and several sarcophagi yet to be opened. The
quiet seemed even heavier than the ancient pillars looked.
"Goddamn it, Charlie. Answer me."
The cold silence pushed the hairs on her skin upward. No,
she wouldn't go there. Everything was fine. People couldn't
respond when they were unconscious. That's the only reason
why he didn't answer her. The beam of the flashlight swept
its way across the wall to the last burial tunnel. It
illuminated the elderly man slumped over at the tunnel
entrance. Emma leaped forward and raced to his side.
Flashlight clattering to the ground, she gently eased
Charlie back until he was lying flat on the floor. Kneeling
beside him in the near darkness, her fingers pressed into
the meaty flesh at the side of his neck. The wet and sticky
feel of his skin beneath her fingertips made her swallow
God, he was sweating so profusely. Not a good sign. When
she didn't feel a pulse, Emma reached for his wrist,
praying for a miracle. Even a fluttering heartbeat beneath
his leathery skin would ease her fear. Nothing. Panic
latched on to her as she grabbed her radio and screamed
into it. Mike knew CPR. He could—no. Mike was at the
cemetery with the rest of the team.
The blaring silence from the two walkie-talkies only
emphasized how far away help was.
A clattering of falling rock echoed off in the distance.
Fear coiled in her belly as her fingers brushed across the
gritty floor and she grabbed the flashlight. The sturdy
metal tool cooled her hand as she pointed it in the
direction of the noise. Not even a rat staring back at her.
She shivered and tried to ignore how the mural on the
ancient tomb's wall looked almost menacing in the stark
beam. She dragged in a deep breath. This wasn't five years
ago. She sagged deeper onto her haunches, her Magna
slipping out of her hand to hit the floor with a soft
metallic thud. Charlie's heart hadn't been any good. She
knew that. But she hated how helpless and lost she felt at
the moment. A tear slid down her cheek.
One drop became two until a steady stream of tears soaked
her face. She didn't think, she simply reacted as a wave of
fury swept over her and she pounded Charlie's chest with
"Wake up, goddamn you! Wake up."
With every sob, she hit him harder, but he still didn't
move. As her crying subsided, her anger gave way to a cold
numbness. There were things she needed to do, but she
didn't know what. She couldn't even think straight right
now. She dragged the back of her hand across her eyes in an
attempt to wipe away the remaining tears. The sudden,
pungent scent of copper made her wrinkle her nose.
There was something familiar about it. Her stomach started
to churn. Oh God. That smell had been on her hands the day
her parents were murdered. Their blood had stained her
hands when she'd held them, and she'd never forgotten the
way the musky metal scent had permeated her skin. Teeth
chattering from the icy fear sliding through her, she
reached for her light.
For the first time she realized the metal had a sticky feel
to it, and she wanted to throw up. Blood was sticky. The
beam of her flashlight hit her friend's face, and she
screamed. The mark carved into his cheek was the same one
they'd found on her parents' faces.
Worse still was the slit across his throat and the blood
trailing down his neck. Blood she'd mistaken for
perspiration. The flashlight clattered against the stone
floor as she frantically rubbed her hands against her khaki
dungarees. Even without a light shining directly on it she
knew some of Charlie's blood had already dried on her hand.
She could feel the flakes of it between her fingers and it
terrified her. Instinct made her recoil from his body, and
she scurried backward like a crab racing for safety.
Someone had murdered Charlie. Killed and marked him the
same way they had her parents. She froze. Whoever had
killed Charlie might still be in the tomb. Hiding in the
dark. Waiting. Waiting for her. Self-preservation took
over, and she scrambled back toward her Mag. Clutching the
heavy-duty light in a death grip, she lurched to her feet
and raced toward the light at the end of the vast chamber.
Her boots hammered against the stone floor as she ran, the
sound filling her ears with a thunderous roar. By the time
she reached the foot of the steep slope leading up to the
tomb's entrance, she was gasping for air. Slipping and
sliding, she made her way up the dirt-covered incline into
the brilliant sunlight.
Blinded, she tripped over the two steps leading down the
hill to the base camp. Tumbling head over foot, she
careened down the hillside with a loud cry of pain and
fear. Shouts answered her scream, and when she staggered to
her feet, she saw Mike and several other team members
running toward her.
The next several hours passed in a blur. She wavered
between hysteria and an icy numbness. It wasn't until she
entered the Cairo police station that she realized how
desperate her situation was. She and Charlie had been the
only ones in the tomb. For the police, it was cut and
dried. Literally. The moment she'd arrived she'd been
ushered into a small room, which had a large window
overlooking the station's central desk.
The main area of the police headquarters wasn't well lit
and she imagined it helped keep the room cooler. The
interrogation room she sat in was the exact opposite.
Already she could feel the heat from the glaring lightbulbs
pushing down on her. Through the window, she watched Mike
Granby arguing with a swarthy-skinned police officer.
Behind her, Roberta Young, the dig's financial backer and
self-declared intern, paced the floor. The tall woman's
restless movements only served to shred Emma's nerves that
"Roberta, please," she rasped. "Sit down."
The woman immediately pulled a chair out from the table and
sat down next to her. With a gentle pat of Emma's arm, the
woman's gaze turned toward the action in the squad room.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, it registered that
Roberta looked like a fashion plate for the latest in
archeological field gear. The woman was a Swedish goddess,
tall with flowing blond hair that she pulled back in a
ponytail. She was always gorgeous. Even in the field the
woman managed to look like she could go straight to a fancy
dinner with just a change of clothes.
"How are you holding up, dear?"
"I can't believe he's dead." A tremor rushed through
her. "I'd talked to him just an hour or so before I found
him. He was alive. I swear it."
"I believe you, Emma. I'm sure you'll be cleared of all
charges. It's not like you and Charlie fought all the time."
"What?" She stared at the woman in amazement.
"A couple of interns said they heard you cussing Charlie
out last week," Roberta said with a careless shrug. "I'm
sure the two of them misconstrued the episode."
"I don't understand . . . when . . . oh God, the police
aren't going to believe anything I say."
"Christ, I'm sorry I brought it up." Roberta rubbed her
hand in a reassuring manner. But it didn't calm Emma's
"Why don't they tell me whether they're going to charge me
"They aren't going to charge you. Everyone knows you
couldn't have done this," Roberta said in that cultured
voice of hers.
The inflections were the result of her boarding school
upbringing and immense wealth. And money was something the
woman had in spades. She'd inherited the family import
business when her parents were killed in some type of freak
accident. Emma had never heard the details and had never
asked. Roberta wasn't one to put on airs, but when the
woman wanted something, she usually got it.
Would Roberta use her wealth and power to help her out? It
wasn't as if the two of them were best friends. But if the
woman kept her out of jail . . . her stomach lurched at the
thought of incarceration. Closing her eyes, Emma leaned
forward and buried her face in her hands. She couldn't
believe this was happening. The police were going to think
she killed Charlie. They'd lock her up.
"For someone who complained that he'd be a better team
leader if Charlie weren't around, I'm unimpressed by Mike's
leadership skills at the moment," Roberta said with disgust.
Emma raised her head to look at the other woman, who nodded
toward the window. With Charlie dead, Mike was next in line
to lead the excavation team. Emma watched him gesture
angrily in her direction, but the policeman's less than
conciliatory expression didn't change. Frustration evident
in his manner, Mike wheeled away from the officer. Seconds
later, he burst through the door of the interrogation room,
his tall, burly frame filling the cramped space. He
squatted down next to her and grabbed her hand.
"Emma, they're refusing to let you go."
"Well, there's a surprise." Roberta's voice dripped with
Mike ignored the woman, but Emma saw his mouth thin with
anger. He tugged on her hand to make her look at him. "I
need you to listen carefully, sweetheart."
"It's okay, I understand why they don't want to let me go."
She slowly nodded her head.
"Damn it, it's not okay." Mike growled. "Look, you're in
shock, but I need you to hang on for a little while longer.
I'm going to the consulate to get some help, and I'll be
back as soon as I can."
She stared at him in silence. It made sense that the police
wanted to close the case quickly. She was the prime
suspect, no, only suspect, in Charlie's murder. Blaming her
for Charlie's death simplified their job. The way her
parents had been killed didn't help matters either. The
reality of all of it seemed distant somehow. Almost as if
she was watching it happen to someone else. Mike grabbed
her shoulders and shook her.
"Emma, listen to me. You're not to say anything until we
get you a lawyer."
"I'm not to say anything," she whispered.
Mike's large hand squeezed hers tightly and he gave her a
hug before he stood up. "Hang in there, doll. We're gonna
get you out of this mess."
"I think I'll tag along with you," Roberta drawled.
"No, someone needs to stay with Emma." Mike glared at the
"I have some powerful friends at the consulate, which means
I'll get results."
Mike didn't bother to hide his anger, but he didn't argue
with the woman. Instead, he jerked his head in agreement.
With one last pat on Emma's hand, Roberta stood up and a
moment later she was alone. The moment they were gone, a
shiver raced through her until goose bumps rose up on her
God, she felt sick. Bowing her head, she shivered despite
the room's hot temperature. Whoever killed Charlie had to
have been involved in her parents' deaths. That mark
mutilating his cheek had been the same one she'd seen on
her parents' faces, a diagonal line with a backward C just
above it. Bile rose in her throat again, but she swallowed
it along with her fear.
There was nothing she could do at the moment except wait.
The minutes ticked by and she tried to occupy her thoughts
by watching the activity outside the interview room.
Anything to avoid thinking about the moment when she'd
found Charlie's body. She glanced down at her watch.
Had it been an hour since Mike and Roberta had left or two?
She couldn't remember. The hair at the base of her neck
stood on end as she suddenly sensed someone watching her.
Her gaze scanned the station's front desk. Seeing nothing
unusual, she shifted her gaze to the area behind the main
It took her a moment to see him because he stood in the
darkest corner of the office space. The shadows concealed
his face, but something about his body language told her he
was studying her carefully. Arms folded across his chest,
he stood with one shoulder pressed against the wall in a
relaxed pose. Despite his casual stance, she was certain a
police station wasn't his normal environment, yet there was
nothing about his manner that marked him as an outsider
Unable to take her eyes off him, she felt a light touch
against her cheek. Almost as if someone had brushed the
back of their hand across her face. There was something
comforting about the sensation. It was a soothing touch
that made her think everything would be all right.
She closed her eyes and drew in a quiet breath. Perhaps
Charlie's spirit was here trying to reassure her. Another
feathery caress touched her cheek and she reached up
expecting to feel a warm hand. She sighed with
disappointment when she encountered nothing but her own
The door behind her opened and she turned her head. She
immediately recognized the policeman entering the room.
She'd seen him when she'd first entered the station. He
nodded politely at her.
"Miss Zale, I am Detective Shakir. I will be investigating
Dr. Russwin's murder." The officer took a seat opposite her
and laid a pad of paper on the table. "I have a few
questions I'd like to ask you about your colleague."
"I don't think I should say anything until I have an
"Certainly, but perhaps you could tell me if you've seen
this symbol before."
With several swift strokes of his pencil he drew a mark she
knew well. Her palms suddenly damp with sweat, she
struggled to hide her fear as she met the detective's
watchful gaze. She swallowed hard at the memory of
Charlie's bloody corpse.
"Yes," she said as her breath caught in her
throat. "Someone . . . it was on Charlie's face."
"Can you tell me what it means?"
"No. I've been trying to find out what it means for the
past five years, but I can't find anything like it."
"So you have seen this mark before."
"Yes." She nodded as she stared down at the roughly drawn
symbol. "My parents were mutilated with it, just like
"Ah yes, your parents were murdered in the same fashion as
Dr. Russwin, correct?"
"I . . . yes . . . I really don't want to say anything else
until my friends return."
"I quite understand, Miss Zale, but you would like to find
the person who killed your friend, wouldn't you?"
"Of course." She bit her lip as she met the man's
"As I recall, you were the one to find your parents,
"No, Kareem found them." A warning shot fired off in her
brain, and she shook her head in protest. "If you don't
mind, I'd like to wait until my lawyer gets here before we
"Certainly." He turned in his seat to look over his
Following the direction of his gaze, Emma saw the man in
the shadows move his hand slightly. The almost
indiscernible movement echoed with the air of a man
accustomed to power and how to use it. Her heart ricocheted
off her chest wall as she watched the silent exchange
between the two men.
Her gaze jerked back to the detective as he grunted with
disgust. Irritation pulling his mouth downward, the
policeman sent her a hard look. Whoever the man in the
shadows was, the detective definitely didn't like taking
orders from him. And that hand gesture had been a command.
"Miss Zale, can you tell me what Dr. Russwin might have
been searching for in the tomb?"
For moment, she just stared at the officer. What kind of
question was that? They were excavating the burial site of
a Pharaoh dead for more than two thousand years. What did
the man think Charlie had been looking for? It would take
hours for her to explain everything they were hoping to
find compared to what they would actually discover.
"I'm sorry. I don't understand what you're asking."
"Was Dr. Russwin looking for something special? Something
specific? An artifact or inscription you might not have
"No, I don't think so." Emma frowned and shook her head.
Charlie had always been open with her and the team.
Although he did have the habit of keeping a new discovery
to himself until he'd confirmed its authenticity.
"What about this?" Detective Shakir tossed a small
medallion onto the table.
The metal object had a flat, hollow ring to it as it
bounced against the wood surface until it spun to a halt.
Dull and darkly colored, it blended in with the dark wood
of the tabletop. Startled, she barely glanced at the coin
before she looked up at the detective's surly expression.
The officer was far from happy, and her gaze immediately
swung toward the man in the shadows.
She could almost see him narrow his eyes as he lowered his
chin just a bit. He had an air of anticipation about him
that she recognized. It was the same kind of excitement she
always felt when she and Charlie hovered over a new find.
The exhilaration that came when you shared a breakthrough
with someone who would appreciate its importance. Whoever
he was, this guy wasn't a member of the Cairo police
department. What made it equally strange was her sudden
conviction that he was trying to help her. Dragging her
gaze away from the man in the shadows, she stared down at
the coin on the table.
It took her a full minute or so to grasp the magnitude of
what she was looking at. When her chest became tight from
lack of air, she sucked in a deep breath. A Sicari coin.
She jerked her head up to look in the stranger's direction.
The anticipation she'd sensed in him had evolved into
satisfaction. Almost as if it pleased him immensely that
she'd recognized the artifact.
"I take it you've seen this before." Detective Shakir's
words made her start and she saw the hard look of
accusation in his dark eyes.
"No, I've never seen the coin before." She stared at the
artifact in the center of the table for a little longer
before lifting her gaze to meet the policeman's dour
expression. "But the symbol represents an ancient order of
assassins called the Sicari."
"Would the doctor have recognized the coin?"
"Absolutely," she said with a sharp nod. "He and my parents
wanted to prove the Sicari Order wasn't a myth. Charlie
would have been ecstatic if he'd found something like this."
Without really thinking about it, she stretched out her
hand toward the artifact then stopped. She hated that first
moment when she touched any type of antiquity. She never
knew what to expect.
"It's quite all right to look at it more closely," the
Still she hesitated, but when his eyes hardened with
suspicion, she had no choice but to pick up the ancient
currency. The instant she touched the coin, the familiar
flash that always accompanied her visions occurred.
It was like watching a badly edited movie on fast-forward.
Scenes from the distant past flowed through her head like a
raging river. First, she saw the coin's creation and the
Roman centurion who carried it as a good luck charm. The
surreal vision grew more confusing as it exploded in a
bloody composite of crucifixions, persecutions, and
Then in a brilliant flash, the vision threw her forward to
the last few seconds of Charlie's life. The emotions her
friend experienced at the moment of his death barreled
through her and she dropped the coin with a gasp. Christ,
Charlie had been carrying this artifact when he died.
Trembling, her gaze was inexplicably drawn to the man
hidden in the shadows. He was connected to the coin, but
she didn't understand how. She saw him stiffen, and in the
next moment, the door of the interrogation room flew open
and slammed against the wall. Startled, she cried out in
fear then found herself enveloped in Mike's bear hug of an
embrace. Exhausted and overwhelmed with emotion, she sank
into a dark well of silence.
Read additional chapters at Monica Burns Website.