Ancient History & Civilisation

Chapter 23

Valley of the Kings

1901

HIS HEART BEATING LOUDLY, angry as he could be but also heartbroken, Carter scoured the tomb for clues and telling details of the crime, sometimes crawling on his hands and knees. This sort of detective work was part of his job description. Thanks to his dogged disposition, it came naturally to him, almost as if he’d been trained by Scotland Yard. And of course the tombs, with their dusty passageways and stale air, were like his second home.

Whoever was responsible for this crime had to be a professional. He’d known exactly what he was looking for and where to find it. By all appearances it was the work of an insider, but Carter’s local diggers were a well-disciplined bunch whom he trusted.

He immediately dismissed them as suspects—until he realized that the gate’s lock had not been broken.

A key must have been used, and a key meant that his staff was somehow involved. Damn it!

Betrayal welled up in his throat like bile as he continued pacing through the chambers, appalled by the extent of the theft. All through the day and then into the night, Carter wandered the tomb, returning to the opening every now and then to smoke a cigarette in the fresh air before plunging back inside.

He never stopped racking his brain for some clue he might have overlooked—one that was most likely in plain sight.

He went to bed reluctantly and slept just long enough to realize that he couldn’t sleep anymore.

By first light Carter was back at the tomb, vowing not to leave until he’d solved the heinous crime. He flicked on the light switch and again stepped inside.

Then he stopped.

In his investigation the previous day, Carter hadn’t looked closely at the gate. He had assumed that the robber had a key. He suddenly remembered that the week before, someone had jimmied the gate open and sprung the lock. Nothing had been stolen at the time, and because the gate had shown no signs of significant damage, the matter had been forgotten.

Carter squatted down to inspect the lock. The previous day he had noticed a few scraps of lead paper and resin particles littering the ground and had thought nothing of it.

Now he rolled the resin between his fingers and gave it a sniff. He recognized the scent immediately—it came from the sont tree.

“What would this be doing here?” he said as he scrutinized the substance further. “The resin is the key somehow. But how?”

He studied the lock at eye level. Then he examined the resin.

Soon Carter realized that someone had shaped the resin into a small ball, one identical to the tongue of the padlock. “Ingenious,” he said. “Simple, yet effective. This thief is clever. Almost as clever as I am.”

Now he could imagine what had transpired. The earlier break-in wasn’t a break-in at all but a pretense for snapping the lock and molding the resin to make the lock look like it hadn’t been damaged. The robber then waited until the time was right and returned to the tomb. At that point, giving the lock a couple of good pulls would have been enough to cause the resin to give way.

Carter crept back into the tomb, feverish with anticipation, seeing the crime with new eyes.

His mind flashed back to a foiled robbery attempt some months earlier. A set of footprints had been found at the scene.

There was even a suspect, a man named Mohamed Abd el Rasoul, a local from a family known for generations of tomb robbing. El Rasoul was fond of studying excavations and then making “accidental” discoveries of his own, but the tombs were always looted by the time Carter and his crew were called to investigate. Rasoul constantly walked the line of being suspicious and under suspicion, but no one had attempted to link him to those earlier footprints.

If Carter could just find another set, somewhere in Amenhotep’s tomb, and then match them with el Rasoul, he would have his thief.

So Carter searched the tomb. Within minutes, he had found the footprints of a shoeless man.

Carter gauged the prints with his tape measure. They were the exact size of those found at the other robbery. “Down to the millimeter,” he marveled. “I’ve got you, el Rasoul!”

Carter walked slowly back to the mouth of the tomb. He pulled out another cigarette and lit it, all the while staring out across the Valley of the Kings.

The sound of picks and shovels digging into the desert floor echoed across the valley, as yet another archaeologist searched for some long-lost tomb and the valuable spoils within.

Carter was rightly pleased with himself. How many other men could lay claim to the titles artist, excavator, and detective?

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