Valley of the Kings
IT WAS NEW YEAR’S EVE as a somber, good-looking explorer named Howard Carter, speaking fluent Arabic, gave the order to begin digging.
Carter stood in a claustrophobic chamber more than three hundred feet underground. The air was dank, but he craved a cigarette. He was addicted to the damn things. Sweat rings stained the armpits of his white button-down, and dust coated his work boots. The sandal-clad Egyptian workers at his side began to shovel for all they were worth.
It had been almost two years since Carter had been thrown from his horse far out in the desert. That lucky fall had changed his life.
He had landed hard on the stony soil but was amazed to find himself peering at a deep cleft in the ground. It appeared to be the hidden entrance to an ancient burial chamber.
Working quickly and in secret, the twenty-six-year-old Egyptologist obtained the proper government permissions, then hired a crew to begin digging.
Now he expected to become famous at a very young age—and filthy rich.
Early Egyptian rulers had been buried inside elaborate stone pyramids, but centuries of ransacking by tomb robbers inspired later pharaohs to conceal their burial sites by carving them into the ground.
Once a pharaoh died, was mummified, and then sealed inside such a tomb with all his worldly possessions, great pains were taken to hide its location.
But that didn’t help. Tomb robbers seemed to find every one.
Carter, a square-shouldered man who favored bow ties, linen trousers, and homburg hats, thought this tomb might be the exception. The limestone chips that had been dumped into the tunnels and shaft by some long-ago builder—a simple yet ingenious method to keep out bandits—appeared untouched.
Carter and his workers had already spent months removing the shards. With each load that was hauled away, he became more and more certain that there was a great undisturbed burial chamber hidden deep within the ground. If he was right, the tomb would be filled with priceless treasures: gold and gems, as well as a pharaoh’s mummy.
Howard Carter would be rich beyond his wildest dreams, and his dreams were indeed spectacular.
“The men have now gone down ninety-seven meters vertical drop,” Carter had written to Lady Amherst, his longtime patron, “and still no end.” Indeed, when widened the narrow opening that he had stumbled upon revealed a network of tunnels leading farther underground.
At one point, a tunnel branched off into a chamber that contained a larger-than-life statue of an Egyptian pharaoh.
But that tunnel had dead-ended into a vertical shaft filled with rock and debris.
As the months passed, the workers forged on, digging ever deeper, so deep in fact that the men had to be lowered down by rope each day. Carter’s hopes soared. He even took the unusual step of contacting Britain’s consul general in Cairo to prepare him for the glorious moment when a “virgin” tomb would be opened.
Now he stood at the bottom of the shaft. Before him was a doorway sealed with plaster and stamped with the mark of a pharaoh—the entrance to a burial chamber.
Carter ordered his workers to knock it down.
The shaft was suddenly choked with noise and a storm of dust as the men used picks and crowbars to demolish the ancient door. Carter hacked into his handkerchief as he struggled to see through the haze.
His heart raced as he finally held his lantern into the burial chamber. The workers standing behind him peered excitedly over his shoulder.
There was nothing there.
The treasure, and the pharaoh’s mummy, had already been stolen.
By somebody else.
Palm Beach, Florida
“THIS IS JAMES PATTERSON CALLING. Is Michael around? I have a mystery story to tell him.”
As most people would expect, I love a good mystery, and I thought I might have unearthed a real doozy to write about, which was why I had put in a call to my editor at Little, Brown, Michael Pietsch, who is also the publisher.
As I waited for Michael to come on the line—he usually takes my calls, night or day—I looked around my second-floor office. Am I completely mad? I wondered.
The last thing I needed right now was another writing project. I already had a new Alex Cross novel on the fires, and a Women’s Murder Club brewing, and a Maximum Ride to finish. In fact, there were twenty-four manuscripts—none of them yet completed—laid out on the expansive desk surface that occupies most of my office. I could read some of the titles: Swimsuit, Witch & Wizard, Daniel X, Women’s Murder Club 9, Worst Case…
“I am completely crazy, aren’t I?” I said as Pietsch came on the line. Michael is a calm and calming presence, very smart, and a wonderful father who knows how to handle children—like me—most of the time. Over the years we have become a good fit and have turned out more than a dozen number one bestsellers together.
“Of course you’re crazy, but why the phone call?” he asked. “Why aren’t you writing?”
“I have an idea.”
“I really like this one, Michael. Let me talk at you for a minute. OK? Since you seem to know everything about everything, you are probably aware that a collection of King Tut memorabilia is touring the world. People are lining up everywhere; the exhibit is usually sold out weeks in advance. I actually visited a Tut exhibit years ago at the Met in New York, and then recently in Fort Lauderdale. I’ve seen firsthand how Tut’s story blows people’s minds—men, women, and children, rich and poor.
“There’s something about Tut that brings ancient Egypt to life for most of us. It’s not just the incredible treasures he was buried with, or the art, or the near-miraculous discovery of the burial chamber by Howard Carter. It’s all of that, of course, but there’s something magical here, something iconic. Tut’s name was scrubbed from Egyptian history books for thousands of years, and now Tut is probably the most famous pharaoh of them all. And yet nobody knows that much about him.
“Michael, I want to do a book about Tut. Three parts: present day, as I learn—hopefully—more and more about the Boy King; then the amazing discovery of the tomb and treasures by Carter, who is probably worth a book on his own; and a third part about Tut himself.
“Did you know that Tut married his sister—and that theirs was an incredible love story? So what do you think? Are you going to try to stop me? Just this once, will you save me from myself?”
Michael’s infectious laughter traveled across the phone lines. “How’s the new Alex Cross coming?” he asked.
“Almost done—ahead of schedule. You’re going to like it.”
“Well, Jim, like just about everyone else, I’m fascinated by ancient Egypt, the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, Tut, Nefertiti, the Rameses boys. So I have to tell you, I like the idea very much.”
Now it was my turn to smile and to laugh in relief.
“I’m really glad. So let me tell you what I thought would close the deal—though, obviously, I don’t need it. Michael, I have a hunch that Tut was murdered. And I hope, at least on paper, to prove it.”
Michael laughed again. “You had me at ‘King Tut,’” he quipped.